Despite a 9 point third quarter effort and a late push from the Celtics, the Rockets held on for a victory in the Boston Garden. The W gives Houston a 4 game winning streak, their second of the month.
As Armin Khansari (ak2themax) wonderfully outlined in his preview, Houston has struggled to throw the "knockout punch" to sustain their leads. Exactly that happened tonight, as the Rockets' 19 point lead was cut down to 3 on multiple occasions.
The Rockets were hot in the first half, scoring 60 points on 52% shooting. They committed only 4 turnovers in the first half and led by 18 going into the locker room. Along with their offensive success, the Rockets' defense was swarming, limiting the Celtics to just 36% from the field. Those were the good times, because something happened in between halftime and the end of the game that turned 4 turnovers into 16 and the 18 point lead turned into 3.
Houston came out of halftime sluggishly. They were flat offensively and uninterested defensively. The Rockets shot 3-17 for 9 points with 8 turnovers in the third quarter. They were outscored 22-9 in the third.
McHale on Rockets in 2nd half: "We quit moving the ball, quit moving our bodies. Just played hideous offensive basketball for 27 minutes."— Jonathan Feigen (@Jonathan_Feigen) January 31, 2015
It was truly an up-and-down game for both teams. The one constant for the Rockets was Donatas Motiejunas. DMo was unstoppable all game, scoring a career-high 26 points and grabbing 12 boards. In particular, he had two buckets that stood out; his and-1 dunk off Harden's alley-oop pass and his putback slam off a Harden miss.
James Harden couldn't get anything going and ended with just 14 points on 4-21 shooting. The Celtics are a team built to stop players like Harden because they have a handful of athletic wings who are exceptional defenders. Rookie Marcus Smart specifically frustrated Harden down the stretch. The Beard also recorded 6 rebounds, 7 assists, and 5 turnovers in a disappointing performance.
For Boston, Marcus Thornton (out of all people) had the hot hand. He just chucked up tough shots and they were falling -- it was just that kind of night for Thornton. He gunned his way to the tune of 17 points in 23 minutes. For a good majority of that time, James Harden was guarding him. Just saying.
Along with the Lakers and Suns games, the Rockets have kept it close with inferior teams especially in January. That's \ a very bad habit to get into as a basketball team. What could be causing the Rockets to seemingly play to the opponents level? Is it coaching? Could it be that some of the players have tired legs from playing so many minutes (Harden, Ariza)?
The Rockets improved to 33-14 with the win and remain in second place in the Southwest Division. If the regular season ended today, Houston would be penciled in at the third seed and would face the Dallas Mavericks in a first round heavyweight matchup. But let's not get carried away, we haven't even reached All Star weekend yet. The Rockets continue their road trip in Detroit tomorrow as they play a Brandon Jennings-less Pistons team in The Palace on a back to back.