The Celtics headed into last nights game against the Rockets riding a 3-game losing skid, and were fresh off a thrashing at the hands of the Washington Wizards. They pulled out a huge win on the road on the second night of a back-to-back against a Rockets team that marks their biggest win of the season. Houston is hands down the best team the Celtics have defeated this year. After one of their worst defensive efforts just a night previous, the Celtics ratcheted up the defense and looked like the defensive stalwarts they were a season ago:
Stevens called his team “tough” tonight. Big difference from yesterday.— Tom Westerholm (@Tom_NBA) January 26, 2017
That solid team effort on the defensive end against 2nd ranked offense in the NBA (ORtg via Basketball-Reference.com) was compounded by the Celtics also out-rebounding the Rockets, the 4th best team on the boards in the NBA, 48-30. Even though the C's have gained ground on both Toronto and Cleveland despite their losing streak, the win was important to keep pace over the two teams nipping at their heels in the standings - Atlanta and Washington:
Things are tightening up a bit here... pic.twitter.com/ZebkgMHzPb— Adam Himmelsbach (@AdamHimmelsbach) January 26, 2017
As much as I'd love to overtake Toronto for that 2nd seed by season's end, my thinking is it's more important to stay in the 2 or 3 spot to avoid Cleveland until the conference finals. I'm less concerned with home court advantage versus the Raptors and would just prefer to stay away from LeBron and Co as long as possible.
The story of the night aside from the defensive 180 the Celtics spun was Isaiah Thomas outplaying one of the MVP front-runners James Harden. IT dropped 38 points on 15 for 27 from the field with 9 assists and 5 rebounds to boot. An efficient offensive effort that Harden couldn't match as he scored 30 points on a measley 6 for 18 shooting. If the refs hadn't completely tried to give the game to Houston this game wouldn't have been even close:
Free throws: Rockets 38, Celtics 16. C's made up for the impossible difference by dominating on the glass, 48-30. How about that.— CelticsLife.com (@CelticsLife) January 26, 2017
Harden shot 19 of those free-throws, and the 16 he made accounted for more than half of his scoring output. Although he managed to dish out 12 assists, his 7 turnovers certainly aren't a good look. Meanwhile Isaiah got better as the game went along, and once again when the C's needed him to close out the game he poured in 13 in the 4th quarter to defuse the Rockets. His teammates did a great job of moving the ball and getting Thomas open looks:
This was an important win for a lot of reasons. The C's ended a three-game losing streak, played the kind of defense we've expected but rarely seen this season, massively out-rebounded a team that excels on the glass, but most of all the Celtics finally beat a team in the NBA's upper echelon. A hurdle they had been unable to overcome this season - until last night.
Photo Credit - Boston Herald/Associated Press
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Mark Allison 1/26/2017 11:55:00 AM Tweet Edit