Boston Celtics: 2013Game36
THE NITTY GRITTY
Paul Pierce scored a team-high 23 points on 8-of-14 shooting (doing most of his damage in the second half), while Kevin Garnett added 17 points on 8-of-12 shooting with eight rebounds to pace the Celtics. Boston got another big effort from its bench with Courtney Lee and Jared Sullinger chipping in 14 points apiece. The Celtics shot 51.9 percent (41-of-79) from the floor and 39.1 percent (9-of-23) from beyond the arc. Avery Bradley's pesky defense limited James Harden to a modest 24 points on 9-of-19 shooting, while Chandler Parsons (18 points) and Jeremy Lin (12 points) joined him in double figures for the Rockets.
TURNING POINT I: BENCH BALL
For the second straight game, the Boston bench turned the game around in the second quarter and in similar fashion with Jeff Green's dunks lighting the fuse. In a one-possession contest midway through the second frame, Green sandwiched a pair of dunks around a Jason Terry 3-pointer and Lee followed with a triple of his own to put Boston out front 46-33 after a dizzying 90-second outburst. Sullinger played all 12 second-quarter minutes, registering eight points and five rebounds (he had 14 and 8 for the half) and was a big reason Boston ripped the game open a bit. For good measure, the Boston starters opened the second half on a 9-0 run -- Pierce hitting a pair of 3-pointers and adding a pair of free throws while doing the heavy lifting -- to carve out a 17-point cushion.
TURNING POINT II: C'S WITHSTAND ROCKETS CHARGE
The Celtics were up 14 with 10:14 to play, but the Rockets wouldn't go quietly. A Carlos Delfino 3-pointer sparked a 12-0 run (one in which Boston missed layups and turned the ball over carelessly). A Parsons dunk had Boston clinging to an 83-81 lead with 7:22 to go, but Pierce scored coming out of a momentum-sapping timeout and the Celtics put together a 9-1 burst to push the lead back to double digits with just under six minutes to go.
CHARITY STRIPE INDEED
The Celtics busted out their finest free throw line defense as the Rockets missed a whopping 17 freebies (on 29 attempts; 41.4 percent). The Celtics didn't get themselves to the line very often, but took advantage when they did (12-of-16, 75 percent).
WHAT IT MEANS
The Celtics (19-17) push their winning streak to a season-high five games and are two games over .500 for the first time since losing in Houston on Dec. 14. With the Knicks getting stomped by Chicago, Boston should move within four games of the top spot in the Atlantic Division. This wasn't a perfect effort and Boston lost its focus -- almost critically -- for a stretch in the fourth quarter, but the Celtics showed quality resolve pushing their lead right back up to double digits in the fourth quarter. The Celtics have the weekend off before three more home games next week (Charlotte, New Orleans, and Chicago).
BOSTON -- It's the age-old battle of professor versus student when Celtics center Kevin Garnett goes up against the Kevin McHale-coached Houston Rockets on Friday night at TD Garden. And Garnett smiled when he noted before the game that McHale was probably inside the visitors' locker room giving his team a potential game plan to slow Garnett down.
McHale, then the Timberwolves' general manager, drafted Garnett with the fifth overall pick in the 1995 draft, and nurtured the prep-to-pros player through his early NBA development.
"Kevin hasn't been my coach for a long time, but he's taught me a lot, so I see the similarities and I see some of the things that I remember or that's refreshing to my mind when I'm watching his teams play," said Garnett. "At the disadvantage, he's taught me everything, so he's probably telling [his players] everything that I know. I've obtained some different things over the years, so other than competition, it's always good to see people you've worked with before still in the game. It's a part of the game. I think Kevin's one of the best teachers that I've ever been around. I think he has a lot to give to the game and always has. He loves basketball, so any time you have someone who loves basketball that much, it's good that they're still around."
* RESPECTING THE ROCKETS: The Celtics endured a 101-89 loss in Houston last month and captain Paul Pierce heaped praise all over the Rockets in advance of the rematch. "A lot of people underrate them," said Pierce. "I’ve looked up over the past two weeks and seen them put up over 120 points, I don’t know how many times. I think the energy that James Harden has brought to the team and the city, has really improved them. A lot of people think they are overachieving, but they are right there with some of the better teams in the Western Conference. You finally have a franchise player in Harden, you have a more-than-capable point guard in Jeremy Lin. And [Omer] Asik has proven to be one of the better centers in the league. You put those three out there, along with [Chandler] Parsons and [Carlos] Delfino, good role players, and they are going to be a team to be reckoned with throughout the NBA."
* SYNERGY SNAPSHOT: The Rockets lead the NBA in points per game (106) but they remain an extremely efficient offense even while playing at a breakneck pace (97 possessions per 48 minutes). Offensively, they rank sixth in the league at 0.959 points per play. Their success in the half-court game is predicated on the pick-and-roll (with either Harden or Lin handling the ball) as the team ranks first in the league at 0.911 points per play. Defensively, Houston ranks 20th overall at 0.932 points per play. Omer Asik hasn't been able to carry this defense alone and teams have feasted on weaker links like Parsons (0.944 ppp, 22nd percentile) and Harden (0.912 ppp, 30th).
* DON'T FORGET SMITH: Greg Smith, one of the league's most efficient scorers despite inconsistent minutes, scored 20 points on 8-of-9 shooting in the first meeting with Boston, which focused much of its energy on limiting Harden and Lin. Smith also finished with six rebounds and three blocks that night. For the season, Smith is averaging 1.234 points per play, second only to Tyson Chandler in points per play. Smith thrives as a cutter (1.489 ppp) and shoots 78.4 percent in those situations (29-of-37 overall) this season.
* MORE PRAISE FOR HARDEN: Harden is averaging 26.5 points and 5.3 assists over 38.3 minutes per game since joining Houston. Clearly defense will be key for the Celtics on this night. That starts with the former Sixth Man of the Year, who is thriving as the focal point of the Rockets' offense since being acquired from Oklahoma City before the start of the season. Pierce admitted he's been somewhat surprised at Harden's emergence. "You're kinda surprised because, you knew he had talent, but you didn’t know his full potential because he had been put in a secondary role there in Oklahoma," said Pierce. "Now that he’s front and center, it’s coming out, full throttle. The reason you're surprised is because you had an idea, but you weren’t 100 percent sure because of the role he played in Oklahoma. He’s really thrived in and blossomed into a young star in this league. He’ll probably be an All-Star this year." That would be appropriate, given that the 62nd annual game is in Houston in late February.
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