Jaylen Brown scored 39 and Jayson Tatum scored 38 as the Celtics defeated the Houston Rockets 126-102 and improved to 25-10 on the season. Boston got off to a slow start, but scored 70 points in the second half, finishing with 20 threes and 32 assists. Rob Williams had 11 points and 15 rebounds and Malcom Brogdon added 8 assists off the bench. For Houston, Jalen Green scored 28 and Kevin Porter Jr. finished with 22.
With the Rockets playing on a second night of a back-to-back, this seemed like a cupcake win for the Celtics. But with the youngest roster in the league, the Rockets are probably less impacted by games on consecutive nights than any other NBA team, and they looked to build some momentum after yesterday’s decisive win in Chicago.
Just five minutes before tip, Joe Mazzulla was ruled out for the game because of eye irritation, and Damon Stoudamire took the head coaching reins. The Celtics only shot 36 percent in the first quarter but held onto a slim 22-21 lead. Jaylen was the only guy who didn’t struggle, leading the way with 15 points and 2 steals.
Robert Williams — still coming off the bench but making a strong case to re-enter the starting lineup — was a force in his first seven minutes of play, collecting 7 rebounds, deterring several shots at the rim, and finding Tatum on this backdoor cut:
find yourself a big that can dish it like this pic.twitter.com/Jert17DdZU— Boston Celtics (@celtics) December 28, 2022
Boston still couldn’t control the game. Were the Rockets playing an uncharacteristically good defensive game, or were the Celtics playing down to their competition? Probably a little of both, but Porter Jr. led the charge for Houston, scoring 12 points in the first five minutes of the 2nd quarter. He scored 36 points last night against Chicago and showed no signs of back-to-back fatigue.
In the final minute, Tatum converted on an and-1 then found Al Horford for a corner three, and the Celtics led 56-49 at the end of a forgettable first half. The Celtics shot just 40 percent from the field and 28 percent from three. After not getting to the line once in the 1st quarter, they hit all 12 of their free throws in the 2nd. Brown led the team with 19 points while Tatum chipped in 16. For Houston, Porter Jr. had 17 points and 5 assists while KJ Martin scored 11 points on an array of athletic finishes.
Tatum was aggressive to open the second half, scoring Boston’s first seven points. But the defense wasn’t offering much resistance and allowed Jalen Green to find easy driving lanes. Porter Jr. got whistled for a flagrant foul on Brown, who sunk two free throws and hit an elbow jumper on the next possession. A Derrick White floater gave the Celtics a 71-62 lead at the 6:00 mark, their largest lead of the game.
Green had a dominant 3rd quarter, scoring 18 on 7-of-9 shooting, including a three to beat the buzzer. In the final two minutes, Grant Williams hit two threes and Timelord had an end-of-shot-clock dunk that was initially not counted, but later ruled a successful bucket upon further review. The Celtics led 92-81 after three quarters.
In the 4th, Boston jumped out to a 9-2 run that included this fabulous alley oop from Grant to Tatum:
TATUM YOU ARE UNREAL! pic.twitter.com/s5rGWKBxf4— Celtics on NBC Sports Boston (@NBCSCeltics) December 28, 2022
TyTy Washington scored the Rocket’s first 8 points of the period, and at the 5:58 mark he found Jabari Smith for a three, cutting the score to 104-94. But the Celtics promptly responded, as Smart, Brown, and Tatum hit consecutive threes to give them a 16-point lead. The final minutes of the game were a Celtics dunk show, and they’d win the game 126-102.
The Celtics next play the Clippers this Thursday at 7:30 pm EST.