It didn’t go so well, especially in the second half as Harden and Westbrook combined for 78 points as the Rockets ran away with a 116-105 win to snap the Celtics seven-game winning streak Tuesday.
Harden and Westbrook’s offensive explosion frustrated their Celtics defenders, not just because of their ability to put the ball in the hoop, but also due to the added strain of trying to guard them when they get the benefit of the whistle. Harden and Westbrook went to the line for 31 of Houston’s 42 attempts, which was significantly more than 25 free throws the Celtics shot.
As someone who prides himself on containing some of the best offensive players in the NBA, Smart couldn’t help but fume over what he felt was a double standard in the way the game was officiated when Harden and Westbrook had the ball.
“We got star guys, too. If that’s the case we should be getting the same calls that those stars are getting,” Smart said.
Celtics out-attempted at the line tonight, 42-25. Smart on it being time for Celtics to get some star treatment. "We got star guys, too. If that’s the case we should be getting the same calls that those stars are getting."— Mark Murphy (@Murf56) February 12, 2020
For Smart, he believes that the so-called star treatment that is afforded to players like Harden and Westbrook should be a two-way street.
“First team all defense, one of the best defensive players in the league, I would think so,” said Smart on if he felt he deserved star treatment on defense due to the pedigree he has built on that end of the floor. “Up for defensive player of the year, they’re talking, but obviously not.”
Smart felt that the officials’ inconsistency played a major factor in how the Celtics could effectively play defense on Houston’s stars, as Harden and Westbrook took a stranglehold on the game. While Westbrook’s ultra-aggressiveness on drives usually resulted in making trips to the free-throw line, Harden is one of the best in the NBA at drawing contact, albeit sometimes very minimal contact, when he pulls up from long range.
James Harden scored 42 points tonight while making just 9 field goals. It's just the 7th time in NBA history that a player has scored that many points on fewer than 10 FGM, per @bball_ref.— Taylor Snow (@taylorcsnow) February 12, 2020
“The way the game is being called, we didn’t know how physical we could be, because when we were physical we were being called, so it kind of made us hesitant and put us on our heels,” Smart said. “Anytime you’re fearful of fouling, that’s kind of what happened.”
Smart added: “You’re asking (the referees) to kind of give you a sense of how not to get in foul trouble and how not to foul and what you need to do. Then you go out there and do it and then you get called for a foul. It’s demoralizing for you.”
Kemba Walker didn’t go nearly as far as Smart with his thoughts on the officiating after the game, but the Celtics point guard didn’t have to. What he tried to avoid saying spoke volumes. The 6-foot Walker, who tries to initiate contact regularly and is one of the best in the league at doing so, was awarded only three free throws in the contest and he bit his tongue on whether he thought he should have gone to the line more.
“I would love to tell you a little bit more about it, but I’m not trying to lose no money,” said Walker of the officiating. “I don’t want to say the wrong thing at all. It’s always a touchy subject. Referees have it tough, I think. They try their best, as best as they can. It’s whatever. I’m just going to keep attacking.”
Kemba Walker holds himself accountable for getting frustrated in this game vs Houston pic.twitter.com/gD2aZxueid— Celtics on NBC Sports Boston (@NBCSCeltics) February 12, 2020
The uneven whistle coupled with an alarmingly high 18 turnovers from the Celtics had their frustration pouring of out them at times.
But Gordon Hayward and Jayson Tatum both eluded to that not necessarily being a bad thing, as at the very least, it shows a competitive spirit that the Celtics have routinely put on display this season.
“It was a tough, nasty, game,” Tatum said. “We tried to grind it out. It wasn’t pretty. Guys are competitive and want to win, so sometimes you show your emotions, but everybody in here just wants to win. That’s just part of it sometimes.”