The winless Celtics travel to Houston to take on the 1-1 Houston Rockets in the first of back to back games. The Celtics lost a double overtime thriller to the Knicks on opening night and then were blown out by the Rapters in their home opener on Friday. The Rockets lost 124-106 to the Timberwolves on opening night and then beat the Thunder 124-91 in their home opener on Friday.
This is the first of two games between these two teams this season. The Rockets will travel to Boston on November 2 for their final meeting. The Celtics won the series 2-0 last season and are 92-55 all time against the Rockets. They are also 39-33 when they play the Rockets in Houston. The Rockets, like the Raptors, have a mostly young team that is hungry and so the Celtics can’t take them for granted.
Daniel Theis, the Rockets’ starting center, played for the Celtics from 2017 until 2021 when he was traded to the Bulls in a 3 way trade that involved the Washington Wizards. This off season, he was traded to the Houston Rockets via a sign-and-trade. Like Kemba, Theis was a favorite of most Celtics fans. He will likely be looking to have a big game and get a win against his former team.
Jaylen Brown has been ruled out for this game with patella tendinopathy in his left knee. He also had problems with this in the same knee off and on all last season. I’m going to guess that Romeo Langford will get the start in his place since Romeo started the 3 preseason games when Brown was out with Covid. If Romeo doesn’t get the start, my second guess would be Josh Richardson. It’s possible that the knee injury may explain how Brown went from scoring 46 points in the first game to going 3-13 from the field and 0-7 from beyond the arc in the second game.
Before the game against the Raptors, Ime Udoka said that Al Horford would start at power forward next to Rob Williams. He also stated that this would be the regular starting lineup for the future and so I’m not expecting any changes to the starters for this game other than Jaylen Brown. The Rockets have started the same five in both of their games so far and so their starting lineup should be the same for this game.
John Wall is listed as out for this game. He doesn’t figure in their plans for the team and has been sitting out as they try to find a team to make a trade for him. Two-way player Garrison Matthews is listed as a game time decision. Matthews was recently claimed off waivers but hasn’t yet joined the team. Even if he joins the team, he won’t likely have a role in the rotation.
Probable Celtics Starters
Jaylen Brown (knee) out
Probable Rockets Starters
Danuel House, Jr
John Wall (not injury related) out
Garrison Mathews (not injury related) game time decision
Two Way Players
Al Horford vs Christian Wood
Christian Wood is averaging 23.5 points, 11.5 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 2.0 blocks per game so far this season. He is shooting 55.9% from the field and 50% from beyond the arc. He is leading the Rockets and it will be a challenge for Al Horford to slow him down in this game.
Dennis Schroder vs Eric Gordon
Gordon is one of the veteran leaders on this team and comes off the bench as their 6th Man. He is averaging 18.5 points, 1.0 rebound, and 1.0 steals so far this season. He is shooting 59% from the field and 70% from beyond the arc. Schroder has not played well for the Celtics in the two games so far but he will be tasked with slowing Gordon down, especially on the perimeter. It would be great if he could get his offense back on track as well.
Romeo Lanford vs Kevin Porter, Jr
Porter is averaging 14.5 points, 3 rebounds, 6.5 assists and 1.5 steals per game. He is shooting 39.3% from the field and 40% on three pointers. Whoever starts at the two will need to slow Porter down and also keep him busy by supplying some offense of his own. I’m guessing it will be Langford, but Richardson or Nesmith may also be possible here.
Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense is always a key to winning. Players struggle on offense in some games, but they can always play defense. We saw this principle in action against the Raptors, who shot just 42% from the field and 28.6% on threes but hustled all out on defense and got the win. The Celtics need to commit to playing tough lock down defense from start to finish if they hope to get back on track and get a win. They won’t win without making defense a priority.
Rebound - Much of rebounding is effort and hustle. Getting rebounds gives your team extra possessions and keeps your opponent from getting the same. Against the Raptors, the Celtics showed very little effort and hustle and allowed the Raptors to out rebound them 60-42. Often the Raptors got 3 or 4 opportunities to get a basket on a possession because they grabbed every rebound. The Celtics must come into the game determined to put out extra effort and to hustle for every rebound.
Effort and Hustle - The Celtics hustled and played hard for most of the game against New York, but from start to finish against the Raptors, they showed very little of either effort or hustle. The Raptors don’t have as much talent or experience as the Celtics but yet they won the game by 32 points because they out-hustled and out-worked than the Celtics. The Celtics must be determined to out work every team they play.
Take Care of the Ball - The Celtics have turned the ball over 21.5 times per game over the first two games. That is unacceptable. They had 25 turnovers against the Raptors with 12 of those being unforced. Jaylen Brown dribbled out of bounds twice and that is the result of not staying focused. The Celtics must stay sharp and take better care of the ball. They need to make crisp passes and be aware of their opponents when they do pass. They have to take better care of the ball and cut down the number of turnovers.
On the Road - The Celtics will be on the road and need to block out the distractions that playing on the road brings. They have to stay focused on the game and playing hard and not allow a hostile crowd to distract them.
Health - Health mostly derailed the Celtics last season. So far they have had 2 players miss time with Covid and one with a broken nose and two players with knee soreness. If Jaylen can play without being slowed by a sore knee, that would definitely give the Celtics a better chance to win. But if he can’t, then the rest of the team must step up and make up for his absence.