Tonight's game was one of the 4 quarter, wire-to-wire victories that we have been waiting for. Normally, we are quick to cough up a huge lead that we get early on in a game. This was not one of those nights.
Several overall points to note:
1) Terrence Jones is the real deal
I have full confidence that, if it is the case that Omer Asik is on his way out, Terrence Jones will be able to make us forget about the loss. He had his best game of his young NBA career, scoring 24 points (no other rocket had more than 16) on just 12 shots in addition to 9 rebounds (3 offensive). What was so impressive about his performance was how he did it. It was not like he was just getting to his spot and knocking down a bunch of shots. Terrence was scoring in every way imaginable: 3 pointers, put-back dunks, cuts to the basket, rolling off of picks, and hustle plays out on the break. He did all of this while only turning the ball over only once.
His performance is hopefully the first of many impressive games of his now that he is able to carve out more consistent minutes. As long as his production stays like this, expect to get heavy doses of Terrence night in and night out for the forseeable future.
2) Defense creating offense
From the very beginning of the game, the defense set the tone and really put us in a position to generate points. Dwight Howard protected the rim in ways that even his impressive stat line couldn't communicate. Although he had 2 steals and 3 blocks, all of which I believe sparked a fastbreak, to go along with his double-double, his long reach noticeably altered many of Boston's shots near the rim, forcing a lot of missed buckets.
However, it takes much more than just Dwight to hold a team to 32% shooting on the evening. Our rotations were as crisp as I have seen them all season and our team finally seemed to be able to not simply create a lead with their defense, but sustain it throughout the night.
All of this is what puts our offense in a position to run. All of the blocks, steals, and clanked jumpers allowed us to push the pace when we wanted to and control the tempo of the game from the very beginning. When we are able to get into the open court like we did tonight, we will be a hard team for anyone to keep out of a game.
Hats off to this team effort in particular.
3) Ball movement
When the Rockets were not getting out on the break, their half-court offense was as fluid as they have seemed this season. They were constantly using pump-fakes and rotating the ball to the open man as the Celtics struggled to close-out on shooters all night long. Although the number of turnovers were high, they were not turnovers that seemed to spark Celtics runs (usually Boston ended up throwing the ball away or missing a contested jump shot). We could have certainly taken care of the ball better, but 3 players (Harden, Parsons, Lin) had 5+ assists and every starter had at least 1. Harden still had possessions where he slowed things down and the ball got sticky, but for the most part the offense was a well-oiled machine the entire night. Boston could not key in on one player and for one of the few times in this young season, every Rocket starter scored in double figures.
The Rockets came out playing the best quarter of basketball they have played all season, on both sides of the ball as they dominated the first quarter 40-18. The 40 point quarter was their highest scoring period of the season. They shot 80% from the field and were 5-7 from beyond the arc (71%).
After quickly turning the ball over after their first possession The Rockets came quick out of the gate on a 13-1 run before Boston could get their sea legs under them. The Celtics missed their first 10 shots before an awkward looking Avery Bradley mid-range jumper fell through the hoop. Bradley in particular though had a lot of bad stretches, going 3 for 12 from the field and netting a -27 plus/minus at the half.
Houston's defense to start was the most impressive part of everything. All of our fastbreak opportunities came from blocks and steals that opened up the court and let us run. Dwight Howard had the paint locked down, picking up 3 blocked shots that all ended up in fastbreak scores on the other end, where Parsons and Harden distributed the ball wonderfully. Dwight wasn't the only one. The Rockets had 8 first half blocks that sparked their offensive bursts along with some timely steals to get Houston in the open court. They were 19-1 in fastbreak points at intermission.
Offensively, Dwight was less imposing, getting only 2 field goal attempts and 4 points. He didn't really need to get involved because everyone else was pulling their weight.
Lin came off the bench and hit several shots early on in addition to keeping the pressure on the defense while bringing the ball up the court. I thought he outplayed Beverley in the first half, though they were both playing quite well. I've very much warmed up to bringing Jeremy off of the bench to spark the offense when the starters need a breather.
Offensively, the ball movement we were creating was simply superb. The right player was finding the ball in the right place at the right time for the right shots. Consistently. We even tried to replicate our own version of ‘Lob City,' with several alley-oop attempts (with varying levels of success). We had more open court opportunities to generate pressure on Celtics defense that, at times, seemed very lost.
At the half, Terrence Jones had a new career high in points with 17 points (shooting 8 for 8 from the floor), Houston shot 57% from 3 point range (69% overall), and Jeremy Lin didn't have a single turnover, and the only player to crack double digits in scoring for Boston was former Rocket Courtney Lee.
It was a half to be proud of for Rockets fans starved for just such a performance
The effort continued into the second half as Terrence Jones opened with a block and Chandler knocked down a 3 pointer, and Houston's pump fakes had the whole Boston defense on skates, and the Rockets defense was suffocating what limited offensive options Boston had to work with.
With only 7 points in the quarter over halfway into the 3rd, the Celtics found themselves down by 30+ heading into the first quarter. Our offense slowed down, only netting 20 points in the period, but the defensive effort held Boston in the teens.
After the 3rd, McHale appeared to pull the plug, sitting Harden, Howard, and Parsons and the Rockets coasted to victory. The bench had some decent garbage minutes, preventing the game form getting any closer than it ever was.
Also of note: Omer got 7 minutes in garbage time, but the coaching staff opted not to put him in the second unit against a guy like Olynyk and instead went with 18 minutes of Dmo. Oddly enough, Omer immediately turned the ball over when he was subbed into the game leading to an impressive Dmo chase-down block on Olynyk. This of course led to a brick on a wide open shot for Dmo on the other end in transition.
On to the Next One...
Now that we finally got to rest our starters at the end of a game on the eve of a back-t0-back, the hope is that we will be able to carry this performance over into the next game, especially after 2 days of rest coming into the game. The Mavericks await us tomorrow and to be perfectly honest, I feel great about our chances if tonight's performance is any sort of precursor of what is to come.
This was a fun game to watch all around and a good omen of what is to come this year. Enjoy it while it lasts.