After a Christmas Day victory over the Milwaukee Bucks, the Boston Celtics should enter Tuesday’s contest against the Houston Rockets full of confidence and ready to execute their offensive game plan to an elite level.
For their part, Houston is a young and rebuilding team, but don’t let that fool you — there’s some genuine talent within their ranks, and they’re coming hot off the heels of whopping the Chicago Bulls. So both teams will be feeling good about themselves come tipoff.
With that being said, let’s take a look at some ways the Celtics could look to gain an advantage against the Rockets as they search for their third straight win.
Keep executing on defense
The Rockets might have some young talent at their disposal, but they’re still another year or two away from putting everything together, especially on the offensive side of the floor. According to Cleaning The Glass, the Rockets rank 26th in the NBA for offensive rating, 29th over the last two weeks.
As such, if Boston can bring a similar level of defensive intensity into Tuesday’s game as they did against Milwaukee on Christmas, you will be hard-pressed to see how the Rockets are going to break the 100-point barrier.
The key for the Celtics will be limiting driving lanes for Jalen Green, who Houston likes to position at the slot, while also making life difficult for Kevin Porter Jr. when he looks to penetrate off the dribble. Contain the guards, and the Rockets will stumble through their half-court sets more often than not.
Keep pressuring the rim
This deep into the season, we have a large enough sample size to attest that Boston’s offense is at its potent best when they’re pressuring the rim, engaging the low man and weak side defender, and then making a read based on how the defense is rotation. Of course, it’s much easier to punish a team’s defensive coverage when they’re already a poor defensive team around the cup, which is the exact predicament the Rockets will find themselves in.
So far this season, Houston is sitting 23rd in rim defense, allowing opposing teams to score an average of 68.7% of their attempts within four feet of the basket. So, if the Celtics look to pressure the rim, everything else is going to open up for them, and even if it doesn’t, the Rockets will have a hard time containing their interior scoring, so either way, pressuring the rim will be a win-win for the Celtics.
Push the pace
Houston will enter Tuesday’s game on the second night of a back-to-back, so there will undoubtedly be some tired legs, regardless of how youthful their roster is. However, that’s not the only reason the Celtics should look to get out and run at every opportunity.
Throughout the season, the Rockets have been one of the worst transition defense teams in the NBA, ranking 28th per Cleaning The Glass and dead last when trying to limit teams scoring opportunities off of steals.
On the flip side, the Celtics are 9th in transition offense and 7th when attacking directly off pilfers, so there is plenty of scope for Boston to run until Houston’s wheels come off. The Celtics have enough scoring, playmaking, and defensive peskiness that Houston could find themselves struggling to keep up by the end of the third quarter.
Honestly, the Rockets are one of my favorite teams to watch on league pass. They’re young, fearless, and bursting with young, high-upside talent. Still, that same Rockets team can be frustrating; they consistently turn the ball over, regularly take ill-advised shots, and their defense leaves a lot to be desired on a possession-to-possession basis.
As such, assuming the Celtics enter the game with the right mindset and look to continue their slump-breaking resurgence, they should have no issue dispatching Houston throughout the course of the game. However, this is the NBA, and any team is capable of causing an upset, so a business-like approach is necessary.
Personally, I would like to see some development minutes for Boston early in the fourth quarter, but maybe that’s being too hopeful.