Pay no heed to the "Boston isn't a title contender" talk. All that ever matters in the playoffs is one's ability to make it to the next round, not whether or not you can beat the best team in the next conference, or even the best team in your own. The Celtics can beat great teams, they just haven't been pulling it off recently, and so the NBA sphere wants to write them off.
So it shouldn't be surprising that the Rockets lost last night. The Celtics can beat great teams, and the Rockets aren't a great team. They're a team with a high-scoring backcourt and some significant defensive issues. The Celtics, on the other hand, boast one of the best point guards in the game, a collection of aging-but-not-dead talent, and (most importantly) the strongest defense in the league, built on the contribution of guys like Rondo, Perkins, and Garnett.
And Boston matches up well against the current Rockets squad. Rondo and, surprisingly, Allen pulled off an excellent defensive game against Brooks and Martin, keeping both from getting off shots for most of the night. Their interior defense was just too strong for Scola and Co. to do much against, though their efforts were generally more effective than those of their backcourt counterparts.
Speaking of the frontcourt, I think this game showcased this team's need for Yao pretty spectacularly. On the offensive end, the Rockets needed someone to throw the ball to in the low post, and Scola and Hill were largely getting pushed out of the paint by Davis and Perkins.
The need for Yao on the defensive end is a little more glaring, I think. Sure, there's the rebounding issue - everyone gets pushed around while trying to box out, and while Yao was never the best rebounder, he took up a lot of space and that means a lot. Even this late into the season, the Rockets still get burned on pick-and-rolls. It's as if Brooks gets hit with a pick, looks at the ball handler streaking towards the basket, and says to himself, "Fuck it. It's the frontcourt's problem now." Screw fighting through the pick, because one of the big guys will handle it.
A year ago, that worked. Brooks could fail to fight through the play, and the giant Chinese guy would move towards the basket. It wasn't the best move to keep Yao out of foul trouble, but it helped create one of the best defensive teams in the game.
Okay, so that's the problem - 7'6" Center is no longer there. But it's freaking game 67, right? Everyone should have adjusted by now.
Well, the issue is twofold. First, I think that, to whatever degree, these are just the players we have. Brooks is probably never going to not get totally burned on defense. That's just who he is. I doubt the coaching staff has failed to adjust their schemes, and we know they've played some great defense at times, so it has to come down to the players.Second, Boston is just such a physical team, and I imagine that this upset the Rockets quite a bit, even on defense. Particularly when they pressure the ball enough to generate 16 turnovers and outscore the Rockets on the fastbreak.
In the end, the Rockets just weren't able to execute their offense, nor were they able to maintain any sort of defensive discipline. Boston was just too good on the defensive end for the Rockets to get anything done without a stronger low-post threat, and the bench simply wasn't able to make it up.
Chuck Hayes - Continues to be a one-man army on defense, played Garnett well, and contributed elsewhere. Nice to see him come back from a series of poor games. Led the Rockets in free throws, in another oddity.
Luis Scola - Houston's big guys weren't able to get too much done, but they contributed a lot more than most of the other players. Scola's double-double certainly helped keep this from being a blowout. I might as well mention Jordan Hill here, too. His numbers don't look great, partly because he kept on ending up with the ball at the end of broken possessions, forcing him to throw up prayers. Not a bad night outside of that, however.
Kevin Martin - Okay, Speed was shut down for a good part of the night, thanks mostly to Ray Allen and Michael Finley managing to stay in front of him (Drexler kept complaining about hand-checking on AB, but there was certainly some questionable contact here, too. Whatev). But he turned it on in the third quarter, and wound up with a fairly strong game, just not one strong enough to carry the team. More is expected of him, but so few other had good games that this is enough, I suppose. Still, 17 points on 12 shots isn't bad or anything. And he was hurt too, so he's got that martyr angle going for him.
Aaron Brooks - bad night on defense, bad night on offense. The defensive stuff's been discussed, but Rondo pulled off a great game against one of the NBA's hottest shooters. AB only tried one three all night, and Rondo kept Brooks from finding a shot most of the night. Couldn't even get it done against Nate Robinson, though, and that's inexcusable. Rondo might have only scored 2 points, but the 10 assists were partly AB's doing, too.
Kyle Lowry - clearly still ailing from the series of injuries he has aggravated and reaggravated over the course of the past two months. Looked good some moments, looked bad most others.
Everyone - The Rockets needed this. They lost some games against easy opponents early this year, and that meant they needed to make it up against good teams. Instead, the Celtics' defense clearly got in their heads and frustrated them all night.
Next Game - @Knicks; Sunday, March 21; 12:00 PM CST