The unstoppable force of the Houston Rockets’ offense met the immovable object that is the Boston Celtics defense. Houston won. The Celtics weren’t able to hold off Houston’s onslaught behind uncharacteristic turnovers – 18 of them – and several late defensive lapses.
Although the numbers might not pop off on the box score, Jayson Tatum may have been Boston’s best performer. He was everywhere on defense, and his presence on offense opened up a ton of opportunities for his teammates. In the fourth, Tatum pronounced his progression to superstardom in a different way, drawing 3 straight fouls on James Harden early in the period. He finished with 15 points, 9 rebounds and 4 assists along with 4 steals.
In terms of box office impact, Kemba Walker and Gordon Hayward led the way. Hayward led the team with 20 points along with 8 rebounds and 6 assists. Walker chipped in with 14.
Jaylen Brown was also aggressive, pouring in 19 points of his own. Daniel Theis didn’t stuff the stat sheet, but it was evident that he was the most effective big to play against Houston’s small-ball lineup with 11 points and 9 rebounds.
Houston as a team didn’t shoot particularly well, but naturally, James Harden and Russell Westbrook stuffed the stat sheet. Harden finished with 42 points after a 19-point third quarter. Westbrook poured in 36 points and 10 rebounds.
Boston came out hot in the opening minutes, taking advantage of good spacing and the mismatch of having Daniel Theis being guarded by PJ Tucker. That didn’t last long as the Rockets started shooting lights out from deep. Still, the defense was solid; it was the offense that started to sputter behind players settling for jumpshots. When the Celtics focused on driving to the rim, they took the lead. When they settled, they fell behind.
Late in the second quarter, Kemba Walker received a technical foul after protesting a no-call on a Gordon Hayward drive. The Celtics proceeded to go on a 14-4 run to end the half. The Rockets took charge in the third quarter behind Harden’s outburst, but Boston came right back firing on all cylinders at the start of the fourth quarter.
The Rockets held a slight lead toward the end of the game, and that’s when Brad Stevens countered with a small lineup of his own – Marcus Smart in place of Daniel Theis and the four other starters. That didn’t last long after Jaylen Brown tweaked his ankle injury once again. The Celtics turned the ball over way too much, and the Rockets were more than happy to capitalize. A sharp start turned into a sloppy finish for Boston.
The Celtics will head into the All-Star break after a Thursday night rematch against the Los Angeles Clippers after losing a close one in overtime near the beginning of the season. That game tips off at 8 PM EST on TNT.