After a two-game win streak that seemed to get the Boston Celtics back on track, they fell back into a hole on Monday night, losing to the Houston Rockets - the team with the second-worst record in the NBA.
Boston failed to match the energy levels of Houston, consistently giving up easy looks on defense and failing to work for quality shots from their own on offense. And to make matters worse, they lost all of the little battles throughout the game as well.
“Just taking care of the little things,” said Jaylen Brown when asked about the loss. “Our execution - we lost tonight, not really only execution, just [a] lack of effort. Not doing our job, the hard stuff. The little stuff is what adds up. The offensive rebounds or loose balls to turnovers. We didn’t deserve to win the day.”
The first half went fairly well for the Celtics, but they failed to gain any sort of substantial lead on Houston. By halftime, the Rockets were up by seven points, and that lead extended to as many as 13 points in the third quarter.
In the third frame, the Celtics shot much better from the field than the Rockets and won the quarter, but only by two. The Celtics shot 47.4% from the field and 33.3% shooting from deep in the third, while the Rockets shot just 37.0% overall and 14.3% from distance.
However, the Rockets out-rebounded Boston on the offensive glass six to one and took eight more shots than the Celtics did in the third. Those sorts of small losses were what compounded throughout the game, leading to the loss.
“Lack of effort, for sure,” said Jaylen Brown when asked about the Celtics loss. “Fifty-fifty balls, loose balls, they beat us. I don’t know what the final stat line was, but it just felt like they won every loose ball, and they just wanted it more. Offensive rebounds, and then, we tried to make a push late in the game, but it was too late.”
Houston gained a solid lead on the Celtics in the second and third quarters, but in the first, Boston had a chance to impose their will on the Rockets.
As early in the game as it was, they went up 6-0 to start the game. Houston missed five-straight shots to begin the game, while Brown and Jayson Tatum got going with two made field goals and two made free throws, respectively.
“I mean, you guys watched it - it wasn’t great,” Tatum said. “We picked it up kind of too late. And I take the blame for that. I didn’t necessarily start the best, and I feel like that kind of spread throughout the team.”
Instead of locking in on defense and continuing to take smart shots, the Celtics started playing silly. Turnovers, a lack of rebounding, and a multitude of unnecessary fouls helped the Rockets not only get right back into the game but stay ahead for the large majority of the contest.
A team that has struggled mightily on offense the entire season was able to find a rhythm and drop 111 points on the Celtics, and even so, heading into the game, Houston was 3-41 when they scored 11 or fewer points.
“I think we allowed them to be comfortable, right?” said Tatum. “They ain’t got a good record, but they got talented players. I felt like they felt comfortable to start the game, and it became tough towards the end.”
Houston finished the game with eight more assists than the Celtics, shot six more free throws, and grabbed five more offensive rebounds. A young, inexperienced team was able to earn more offensive opportunities and used those chances to find their footing.
This sort of lackluster performance has quickly become a trend for the Celtics. Whether it is blowing double-digit leads in three-straight games or failing to come to play against a team headed for the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes, it’s clear that the Celtics need to figure some things out.
“All those little types of things - we should be mature enough to just persevere through,” said Brown. “But it just seems like, at times like today, [it] was a tough mental game. It was quiet. Playing a team that only has like 15 [or] 16 wins. You think it’s just going to automatically happen. And that’s not the NBA, and that’s not basketball. You can lose on any given night. And we didn’t have a sense of urgency. So, we weren’t rewarded tonight.”