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Houston Rockets (19-18) at Boston Celtics (29-9) Game #39 1/13/24

The Celtics return home to host Ime Udoka and the Houston Rockets.

Boston Celtics v Houston Rockets Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

After being completely dominated by the Milwaukee Bucks on the road on Thursday, the Celtics return home to host the Houston Rockets. This is the first of 2 games between these two teams this season. They will meet for a second time in Houston on January 21. The Celtics and Rockets tied the series last season with each team winning on their home court. The Celtics are 95-53 all time overall against the Rockets and they are 50-21 in games played in Boston.

The Rockets are playing in the 4th game of a 6 game road trip. They are playing on the second night of back to back games, having played in Detroit on Friday. The Rockets are 0-4 so far on the second night of back to back games. They will play in Philadelphia and New York to complete their current road trip. This is Houston coach Ime Udoka’s first time back in Boston after being released by the team for violating team rules. He led the Celtics to the 2022 Finals in his only season in Boston.

The Celtics will continue alternating home and road games as they will play at Toronto before heading home once again to host San Antonio and Denver. The Celtics just completed a 5 games in 7 days stretch and have had one day off since their beat down in Milwaukee. This game will make it 6 games in 9 days. After Denver, the Celtics will play Houston, Dallas and Miami on the road and then have a 7 game home stand.

The Celtics remain 1st in the East. They are 3 games behind 2nd place Milwaukee, 5 games ahead of 3rd place Philadelphia, 6.5 games ahead of 4th place Indiana and 5th place Cleveland. The Celtics are still undefeated at home with an 18-0 record. They are 7-3 in their last 10 games and 7-3 against Western Conference opponents. They are coming off a loss in their last game.

The Rockets are 9th in the West and in position for the play in games. They are 3.5 games behind 6th place Sacramento, 3 games behind 7th place Dallas, and half a game game behind 8th place Phoenix. They are 1 game ahead of the 10th place Lakers, and the 11th place Jazz. They are 4-12 on the road and 4-6 in their last 10 games. They are 5-8 against Eastern Conference teams and won their last game over Detroit after losing the previous 2 games.

The Celtics have no one on the injury list at this time. For Houston, Dillon Brooks is listed as questionable for this game. He has missed the last 9 games, including Friday night in Detroit. However, he has been practicing with the team and may return for this game. Tari Eason is out with a leg injury. Victor Oladipo is out with a knee injury.

Probable Celtics Starters

Celtics Reserves
Delano Banton
Oshae Brissett
Sam Hauser
Al Horford
Luke Kornet
Svi Mykhailiuk
Payton Pritchard
Lamar Stevens
Jordan Walsh

2 Way Players
JD Davison
Drew Peterson
Neemias Queta

Injuries/Out
None

Head Coach
Joe Mazzulla

Probable Rockets Starters

Rockets Reserves
Reggie Bullock, Jr
Jeff Green
Aaron Holiday
Jock Landale
Boban Marjanovic
Amen Thompson
Cam Whitmore

Two-Way Players
Jermaine Samuels, Jr
Nate Hinton
Nate Williams

Injuries/Out
Dillon Brooks (oblique) questionable
Tari Eason (leg) out
Victor Oladipo (knee) out

Head Coach
Ime Udoka

Key Matchups

Kristaps Porzingis vs Alperen Sengun
Sengun is averaging 21.6 points, 9.0 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 1.2 steals per game. He is shooting 54% from the field and 28.6% from beyond the arc. He plays hard and at times is reckless so hopefully the Celtics can escape this game with no injuries. Porzingis should play in this one as he had half the game off on Thursday plus Friday off.

Jrue Holiday vs Fred VanVleet
VanVleet is averaging 17.6 points, 3.9rebounds, 8.5 assists and 1.1 steals per game. He is shooting 40.4% from the field and 39.4% from beyond the arc. VanVleet is very capable of putting up a lot of points when he plays well. The Celtics need to keep him from getting comfortable and from getting into the offense early in the clock.

Honorable Mention
Derrick White vs Jalen Green
Green is averaging 17.3 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 3.3 assists per game. He is shooting 40.3% from the field and 34.6% from beyond the arc. Derrick has been slumping a bit in recent games. This would be a good time for him to get back on track.

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. The Rockets are averaging 112.7 points per game (24th). The Celtics are averaging 120.8 points per game (5th). The Rockets are 6th with a defensive rating of 111.4 while the Celtics are 4th with a defensive rating of 111.3. The Celtics didn’t play any defense in the first half of Thursday’s game against the Bucks. They have to get back to their defensive identity in this one because the Rockets play tough defense and the Celtics can’t depend on a shoot out to win.

Rebound - In order to score, the Celtics need the ball and to get the ball, they will need to crash the boards as a team. The Celtics average 47.2 rebounds per game (1st) while the Rockets average 45.0 rebounds per game (7th). Much of rebounding is effort and when the Celtics put out extra effort on the boards, it usually carries over into the rest of their game. The Rockets are a very good rebounding team and so the Celtics must come into the game determined to put out extra effort and to hustle for every rebound to limit 2nd chance points for the Rockets.

Be Aggressive - The Celtics have to be aggressive in taking the ball to the basket and not settling for 3 pointers on every possession, especially if the 3s aren’t falling. They also have to be aggressive in hustling for rebounds and for loose balls. And they have to be aggressive on defense. They have to play harder than the Rockets and play like the team that wants this game more. They also need to carry that aggressiveness through all 4 quarters with no let up.

X-Factors
At Home vs Road Back to Back - The Celtics are at home where they have yet to lose this season. The Celtics have the crowd behind them and if they give a good effort, win or lose, the fans will cheer them on and help to motivate them. The Rockets had to travel, stay in a hotel, play in front of a hostile crowd and on an unfamiliar court. The Rockets are also playing on the second night of back to back games and fatigue could also be a factor.

Coaching - The Rockets are led by former Celtics coach Ime Udoka, who left Boston under less than desirable circumstances. He was suspended for violating team rules and assistant coach Joe Mazzulla was made interim coach. Eventually, Udoka was officially released and Mazzulla was made head coach. I am sure that Udoka would love nothing more than to beat the team that let him go after he led that team to the Finals. He likely will have his team fired up to play and it will be up to Joe Mazzulla to counter his efforts and motivate the Celtics to stop them.

Officiating - The officiating is always an x-factor. Some referees call the game tight and others let them play. Some favor the home team and others call it evenly. At times the Celtics have spent more time complaining to the refs than they have playing good basketball. Recently the officiating has been getting a lot of scrutiny for being visibly bad. The Celtics have to play through whatever calls go against them and not allow bad calls or no calls to take away their focus on the game.

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