Same teams, same result. In their second meeting this month, the Celtics started their three-game road trip with a win against the Rockets 116-107.
Heading into Sunday’s matchup, both teams were undermanned. Boston was without Jrue Holiday (right elbow sprain) and Al Horford (rest with a game tomorrow in Dallas). On the second night of back-to-back, Jabari Smith Jr., Fred VanVleet, Jeff Green, and Reggie Bullock sat out for the Rockets. Sam Hauser got his fifth start.
It was just a week ago that the Celtics waxed the Rockets 145-113 in Ime Udoka’s return. In the blowout in Boston, the home team caught fire, hitting 24-of-47 from behind the arc. That hot shooting made the trip to the Toyota Center in the first quarter. The Cs scored 35 points in the first frame after hitting 5-of-11 three-pointers. Kristaps Porzingis had 15 points with three threes and 2 blocks.
The second quarter belonged to the second unit. After weathering an early Jalen Green run, a lineup featuring Derrick White and Kristaps Porzingis paired with Payton Pritchard, Sam Hauser, and Oshae Brissett outscored the Rockets’ starters 19-12 to close out the first half. Unselfish ball movement led to open triples for Hauser, Pritchard, and Porzingis to stretch the lead to 70-55 at halftime with 19 assists on 26 made shots. Per Celtics stats guru Dick Lipe, that’s the eighth time this regular season that the team has finished with 70+ points in a half.
How’s this for a strong finish to close the quarter from DWhite:
Bucket and a block to end the quarter pic.twitter.com/iciHfBTLPS— Boston Celtics (@celtics) January 22, 2024
The second half opened with some lackadaisical play from Boston followed by a series of runs for both teams: Rockets 11-5, Celtics 8-0, Rockets again 14-2, and Celtics 5-0. It was 90-80 heading into the final frame.
In their first game with Udoka on the opposing sideline, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum combined for 59 points in less than 30 minutes each. The former Celtics head coach even joked that he wished teams defended the Jays like that when he was in Boston. But in Friday night’s marquee matchup with the defending champs, Brown and Tatum struggled against the Nuggets, making just 15-of-43 of their field goal attempts.
Under Udoka, the Rockets boast a top-10 defense and it was another difficult night for the Celtics All-Stars. Tatum finished just 4-of-17 from the field (9-for-12 from the free throw line) and Brown 6-of-14, but with a 13-11-10 near triple-double.
In the end, it was Porzingis’ night. After a strong first quarter, the big man would play strong again in the clutch with key buckets in the post and 32 points and five blocks on the night. Often paired with Luke Kornet, the double big lineup protected the rim down the stretch with five rejections in the 4th.
The Celtics are back in action tomorrow night against old friends Grant Williams, Kyrie Irving, and the Dallas Mavericks at 8:30 pm EST.