The Boston Celtics hosted Houston on Friday night. The Celtics came in at 39-26 and they are riding high off of a demolition of the Grizzlies. Boston had a chance to extend their home winning streak to 15 games. Houston came in winning 3 out of their last 4, most recently beating the 76ers in Philly 118-104. The Celtics were still without the services of Kelly Olynyk.
The Rockets came out early trying to exploit the paint by feeding Dwight Howard, scoring the first basket of the game. The Celtics continued their hot shooting from Wednesday night, especially Isaiah Thomas who finished 4 for 4 with 9 points in the 1st. The Rockets struggled with assists finishing with 1 assist in the 1st quarter. The quarter ended with the Celtics leading 23-19.
After the 1st quarter, the Celtics struggled from the floor for the rest of the night. Overall they shot 37.4% from the field and only 25.8% from 3 point range. The Rockets outscored Boston 27-20 in the quarter taking a 46-43 lead into halftime. The Celtics defense struggled in the 2nd quarter, and perhaps it was just not aggressive enough. They did not pick up their first foul until the 2:31 mark in the quarter.
James Harden had 9 points and Ariza/Howard both finished the half with 8. Jared Sullinger had a good half finishing with 10 points and 5 rebounds. He seemed to be fully recovered from his skin infection the past week. Isaiah Thomas finished the half with 14 points on 5/8 shooting. Brad Stevens liked going small against the Rockets playing Evan Turner at the power forward position. Turner and Crowder struggled in the 1st half going a combined 1 for 9 with 4 points.
The Celtics came out flat in the 3rd quarter letting the Rockets extend the lead to 10 in the first couple minutes. Crowder took a hard fall in the 3rd quarter on a fast break and headed back to the locker room. Crowder was later ruled out for the game, as the Celtics did not want to risk bringing him back. With Crowder out Stevens went with a very small lineup of Thomas, Bradley, Smart, Turner, and Sullinger. The Crowder injury also gave Terry Rozier his first meaningful minutes since November.
Avery Bradley picked up some of the slack in the 3rd quarter, scoring 9 in the quarter, and Sullinger added 7 points including a 3 pointer. Michael Beasley provided a spark for the Rockets scoring 18 points in his 14 minutes. The 3rd quarter ended with the Houston up 77-73.
The Rockets extended their lead to double digits again in the 4th quarter, as the Celtics struggled to make shots. The Celtics struggled to stop James Harden all night, and as usual Harden got to the free throw line a lot. He finished with 32 points shooting 13 for 15 from the free throw line. Isaiah Thomas finished the game with an uncharacteristic 6 turnovers. After the game he was quoted as saying, “I blame y’all. All I could think about is Michael Jordan.”
The 4th quarter was filled with runs. The Rockets would go up by 7 or 8, and the Celtics would close the gap to a one possession game. Every time the Celtics closed the gap, James Harden or Michael Beasley had an answer. The two combined for 16 points in the 4th quarter, and the small Celtics lineup didn’t have an answer for them. The Rockets closed out the game winning 102 – 98.
Isaiah Thomas and Jared Sullinger were the two bright spots of the game for the Celtics. Thomas finished with 30 points and Sullinger finished with 24 points and 12 rebounds. Terry Rozier crashed the boards very well managing 7 rebounds in only 10 minutes. With Crowder out, the Celtics needed Evan Turner and Marcus Smart to step up, and both players struggled. Smart and Turner combined for 12 points on 3 for 14 shooting. Turner’s frustrations showed as he and Harden got into it late in the 4th, and he was whistled for a technical.
If Crowder is out for an extended amount of time the two of them will need to play better for the Celtics to be successful. There was optimism after the game as Brad Stevens claimed Crowder had a sprained ankle, but not much swelling and that he got a positive vibe from the training staff. On why he went small with the lineup in the 2nd half, Stevens said, “I felt like we needed guys that could really put the ball on the floor and make plays.”
This loss snaps the Celtics 14 game home winning streak, but the Crowder loss could be much more important than the actual loss. The good news for the Celtics is that Crowder will have until Feb 15th to heal when the Celtics travel to take on the Indiana Pacers.