Boston Celtics: Houston Rockets
"I’ve been lost a couple times already [in Boston], in the day I’ve been here," Bayless cracked.
Bayless finished 7-of-13 shooting with four assists, two steals, a rebound and a block over 23:31, almost all of that production coming while playing the final 12 minutes when Boston made a charge despite starting the frame down 19.
Bayless lit the fuse on his fourth quarter with a block/jumper combo that gave Boston a much-needed spark. He mixed perimeter jumpers with floaters in the lane and his 19-foot pull-up jumper with 2:48 to go had Boston within seven, which was as close as the Celtics got.
Bayless admits he's still trying to feel out his teammates and define his own role. But with the team in need of some offense late, he was "trying to pick my spots and a couple shots went in."
Bayless doesn't have an apartment here yet and laughed while noting that -- after five games in a Celtics uniform in five different cities -- he'll finally get his first honest-to-goodness practice with the team on Tuesday.
As for navigating the streets, he's hoping to stick around long enough to eventually ditch the GPS.
Bayless is on his fifth team in six NBA seasons and an expiring contract could have him changing addresses again this summer. But the Celtics like the versatility the 25-year-old former lottery pick brings and will have a chance to keep him around if they deem him a piece of their future.
"I hope I’m able to be here a long time," Bayless said. "I’ve said it since I got traded: I’m looking to find a home and Boston is a wonderful place, a wonderful organization, the history and the tradition behind this place. I would love to be a part of something like that. They’re trying to put something together here and I want to be a part of that. Hopefully, I’m able to do that."
Coach Brad Stevens likes the early return for a player who was thrust right into the fire after being acquired while the Celtics were on a five-game road trip.
"I think he’s doing a good job," Stevens said. "Obviously, it’s hard when you get picked up midstream. He gets off the plane late [Sunday] afternoon and he’s got to find an apartment. He’s got a lot going on, but I think he’s done a pretty good job of transition so far."
Added Stevens: "I think he’s fitting in well. I think that he’s been embraced by our group. We haven’t had any collective success since he’s joined, but the attitudes for the most part have been good and he’s been accepted very well."
So what can Bayless bring that Lee couldn't?
"First of all, I think Courtney is a very good player. I think there's a lot of factors in why decisions are made. Both teams, I think, got very good players. I think Memphis, you’ll see that with Courtney, and Courtney played a great game last night, and played a lot of minutes, and continues to be very efficient and very productive. For us, what Jerryd does different from Courtney is that he can play the 1 some, whereas Courtney was definitely a wing and thrived in catch-and-shoot situations. Could create for himself, but Jerryd can certainly do that and play that 1 position a little bit more if we need him to."
[Related: Celtics hope Bayless is more]
Read on for more notes following Boston's ninth consecutive loss, including Stevens' take on Hack-a-Howard and Kevin McHale on things new (Stevens) and old (the former Boston Garden):
Green sat out the entire fourth quarter of Boston's ninth consecutive loss and revealed after the game that he sprained a shoulder (he wouldn't say which) in the first quarter, limiting his effectiveness the rest of the way. Green finished with four points on 2-of-10 shooting with six rebounds and four turnovers over 27:43. He was minus-12 in plus/minus.
Green, who has been held out of the fourth quarter of past games, was asked about being on the pine again Monday.
"It wasn’t because I was playing bad, it was because I sprained my shoulder at the end of the first, then it just kept nagging me throughout the game," Green said. "Maybe that’s the reason, I don’t know. The [group] that was in, they did a great job of fighting and getting back into the game."
A reserve unit led by newly acquired Jerryd Bayless rallied the Celtics, down 19 entering the final quarter, to within seven in the final minutes, but Houston kept Boston at arm's length.
Asked how the shoulder felt after the game, Green answered, "Still attached." Pressed on if he'd be able to play in Wednesday's visit from the Toronto Raptors, Green said, "That’s the plan."
Is Green upset he's been held out in the fourth quarter of games this season?
"I understand tonight, I couldn’t give anything because of the shoulder," he said. "At any other given time, I do want to be out there."
Sullinger, back in the starting lineup after a three-game stint as a reserve, finished with eight points on 3-of-11 shooting with a team-high 10 rebounds over 22:35. He sported some visible black kinesio tape on his neck after the game, prompting questions about an injury.
"I don’t know [what happened], [the neck] just got real tight while I sat on the bench, spasmed up a little bit," Sullinger said. "I’m going to be all right."
Sullinger has battled a deep bone bruise in his left hand that contributed to a recent shooting slump. He had busted out of that a bit the previous two games, but said his focus remains on simply getting the Celtics back in the win column.
"When you’re a competitor, you always find a way to stay positive," Sullinger said. "You always find a way to try to win. We’re fighting every day."
THE NITTY GRITTY
Avery Bradley scored 14 of his team-high 24 points in the first quarter, while newly acquired Jerryd Bayless scored 15 of his 17 in the final frame, but it wasn't enough for Boston to overcome its defensive indifference during the middle frames. Dwight Howard scored a game-high 32 points on 11-of-17 shooting (many of the alley-oop variety as the Rockets built as much as a 20-point lead in the third quarter), then did enough at the charity stripe (10 of 18) to fend off Boston's late rally. All five Houston starters landed in double digits, including 16 apiece for James Harden (albeit on just 6-of-18 shooting with Bradley playing excellent defense) and Jeremy Lin (who added nine assists). Brandon Bass scored 14 points in a reserve role, while Jared Sullinger had eight points and 10 rebounds over 22 minutes in his first game back with the first unit.
The Celtics continued a recent home trend of fast starts, leading by as much as nine in the first quarter (and eight heading to the second quarter). But things turned quickly. The Rockets needed less than three minutes in the second frame to surge ahead and, later in the quarter, Houston embarked on a 14-2 run with Lin, Howard, and Harden teaming up to stretch out the lead. Houston led by as much as 20 in the third quarter and tried to put it on cruise control.
C'S MAKE A CHARGE
Down 19 entering the fourth quarter, the Celtics rode a red-hot Bayless and a Hack-a-Howard strategy to surge as close as seven (97-90) with 2:48 to go. In the final two minutes, the Celtics tried to lean on their defense (rather than the fluky foul strategy), but Lin hit a driving layup and a Bayless turnover led to a Terrence Jones layup to push the lead back to 12 with 89 seconds to go.
With Boston struggling to stop a Dwight Howard alley-oop-fest, rookie Vitor Faverani got a crack and didn't have much luck in a brief 4 ½ -minute stint. ... Keith Bogans was a healthy DNP. ... The Rockets finished with a 58-36 advantage in points in the paint. ... Both teams turned the ball over 15 times. ... The Rockets shot 46.8 percent from the floor overall, while Boston finished at 37.6 percent (38 of 101 overall).
WHAT IT MEANS
The Celtics (13-26) have now lost nine in a row and 12 of 13 overall. This three-game homestand continues with visits from the Toronto Raptors (Wednesdy) and Los Angeles Lakers (Friday) before Boston heads out on a three-game road trip with stops in Orlando, Miami, and Washington.
Brandon Bass, who has started 36 of 38 games this season, heads for the bench. Humphries was one of Boston's best performers out west, while Sullinger emerged from a prolonged slump at the end of the five-game trip.
"At the end of the day, we’re doing it because we need to continue to figure out what’s best for us at this time," Stevens said of his tweaking the lineup.
In his last two games, Sullinger averaged 17.5 points and 10.5 rebounds over 29.5 minutes, emerging from a shooting cold streak hindered in part by a lingering left-hand injury.
Sullinger noted before Monday's game that no amount of rest is likely to help the hand and he plans to continuing grinding through it.
As for getting a boost while returning home from a long road trip, Sullinger said a better boost would be a win.
"We’re ready to play, we’re ready to hoop. We’re ready to get a win, honestly," said Sullinger. "We’re so antsy to get a win, and sometimes we’re right there. The last three games, we were right there. Just a couple plays that we need to make in both halves, about two more plays we need to make in both halves and I think we can get this win."
A few more pregame notes:
- GOOD, BUT NOT GOOD ENOUGH: The Celtics were lifeless at the start of a five-game road trip, but finished strong (albeit, not strong enough to snap their losing streak). Asked about his team's effort, Stevens said, "Not quite good enough, but better. We’ve played well against good teams three times in a row. I’ve been told that’s kind of unique, that usually you play your best three over the first three, then don’t play as well the last two. But I’m glad I don’t know all those prevailing theories that are out there. I’d rather just try to play well when we have the opportunity. We played better, but it’s frustrating not to get over the top on some of those games, especially when you’re playing really good teams."
- ROCKETS DIFFERENT WITH PARSONS: With Chandler Parsons expected to return after a three-game absence, Stevens was asked how the Rockets differ with him in the lineup. "[He's a] 17-point-per-game scorer. And I think [Ronnie] Brewer is a very good player, he does what he does well. But he’s not a 17-point-per-game scorer. And Parsons has gotten, in my opinion, so significantly better since college, he deserves a ton of credit and I’m thoroughly impressed with what he brings to the table. He can shoot it, but what gets lost in the shuffle is his drives and cuts. His drives and cuts are really high level."
- FIGHTING FATIGUE: The Celtics played four games in five nights to close out their road trip, then traveled back Sunday and get another stiff challenge from a Western Conference foe on Monday. Is Stevens worried about fatigue? "It is what it is," he said. "You've got to play. You got a chance to play, you only get so many chances in your life to play basketball. They may all run together over the course of a season, but it’s as good as it gets if you get a chance to compete."
- HOME SWEET HOME?: The Celtics didn't get a win on a daunting five-game road trip, but they finished stronger than they started, showing fight when encountering adversity and showing they can at least hang with some of the better teams in the West. Now, back at TD Garden, the Celtics have to take the next step and show they can beat a legit West contender like Houston. Boston has lost eight straight and 11 of its last 12 overall. It's last win was here on Dec. 28 vs. Cleveland. You'd have to go back nearly a month to Dec. 16 to find the team's last win before that.
- AVOID THE LULLS: Boston's biggest problem this season has been an inability to string together 48 minutes of effort. The team has been prone to lulls in which it takes its foot off the gas and leads evaporate, or opposing teams race away. As Stevens noted after Saturday's loss in Portland, "You've got a shot to win against three contenders for the West, but, at the same time, those droughts are killing us. I think we can get better in those. But I'm trying to figure out what it is because we're really playing at such a high level the whole rest of the time."
- ROCKETS AT A GLANCE: The Rockets rank fourth in the league in offensive rating and 13th in defensive rating. They attack the glass, ranking eighth in offensive rebound rate and sixth overall (though the Rockets are 23rd in defensive rebound rate). Boston can find success putting pressure on the ball. The Rockets rank 28th in turnover percentage and are last in the league in assist-to-turnover ratio. As STATS LLC points out, the Rockets are 11-3 when they get to 22 assists this year, but struggle when they don't.
- WHAT ELSE?: Chandler Parsons has missed the last three games, but is with the team and expected to play against Boston. ... The Rockets throttled Boston 109-85 in November, one of Boston's most lopsided losses of the season.
(Read full game preview)
Rapid reaction after the Houston Rockets defeated the Boston Celtics 109-85 on Tuesday night at the Toyota Center in Houston:
THE NITTY GRITTY
Houston’s explosive offense was too hot to handle for the overmatched Celtics. Terrence Jones led a balanced attack (six players in double figures) for the hosts with a career-high 24 points on 10-of-12 shooting. James Harden chipped in with 15 points and Patrick Beverley added 16 points as the Rockets shot a scorching 56.9 percent from the field, including 72.2 percent in the first half. For Boston, Jared Sullinger bounced back from a subpar outing in Minnesota to post 10 points and nine rebounds. Courtney Lee also was one of the few bright spots for Boston. After sitting out Saturday’s game with a sore right wrist, Lee scored a team-high 17 points off the bench.
Unfortunately for the Celtics, this one was over shortly after the opening tip. Houston stormed out to an 18-1 run out of the gate, as Boston missed its first 10 shots from the field in the game’s first five minutes. The Rockets used their speed and athleticism to punish the Celtics with easy transition buckets, posting 15 fast-break points in the first quarter alone. Boston showed a little fight early by cutting the lead to 10, but the Rockets put the game officially out of reach by closing out the first quarter with a 10-0 run. The Celtics got no closer than 18 the rest of the way.
MIA: JEFF GREEN
Coming off a two-point performance against Minnesota on Saturday night, Jeff Green again showed little aggression on the offensive end and finished with a mere four points. Boston’s leading scorer has hit just two of his past 13 shots.
The Celtics shot a season-low 32.3 percent. ... With virtually the entire second half consisting of garbage time, all 13 members of the active roster saw action, including Keith Bogans, who played a season-high 12 minutes. ... Houston made use of its size advantage in the interior to post 10 blocked shots. ... The Rockets led by as many as 35 points. ... Avery Bradley had a miserable shooting night, going 5-of-22 from the field. ... The Celtics outrebounded Houston on the offensive glass 18-5.
WHAT IT MEANS
The Celtics (4-8) have dropped four straight games, giving them their second four-game losing streak of the season. The road gets no easier for Brad Stevens and company, as Boston is about to face one of the toughest stretches of its season. They are back in action against San Antonio Wednesday night, before coming home to face the Pacers on Friday. With little time to regroup, putting an end to this losing streak will be a tall order against the NBA’s elite.
- OFFENSIVE LANGUAGE: The Celtics are enduring a tough stretch against some of the league's most potent offenses. Now it's Houston, which ranks fourth in the league in offensive rating (106) and second in scoring average (10.8.8 points per game). The Rockets are shooting 46.9 percent from the floor this season (6th best in NBA) and are second in 3-point attempts (despite hitting only 32.9 percent). The Rockets also get to the free throw at an insanely high rate and play at a cranked pace (100.75 possessions per 48 minutes; 5th in NBA). It all adds up a daunting night for Boston.
- NO SECOND CHANCES: The Rockets are tops in the NBA in rebound percentage (53.3 percent). But here's the crazy part: Houston ranks near the bottom of the league in defensive rebound percentage (27th overall), but is fifth on the offensive glass to pump up its overall numbers. Against an offensive like this, Boston must limit the second-chance opportunities.
- FRESH LEGS FOR C'S: For the first time since the season tipped on Oct. 30, the Celtics enjoyed consecutive days off after playing Saturday night in Minnesota. After playing 11 games in 18 days, Boston got a chance to catch its breath a bit (just in time to play four games in the next five nights in four different cities). The extra time gives Brad Stevens and his staff a chance to further game plan for upcoming opponents.
- WHAT ELSE?: The Rockets are exploitable on defense as they give up a whopping 106.3 points per game (29th in the NBA). ... Houston is also 29th in the NBA in turnover rate (18.7 percent). ... Houston is favored by a whopping 10.5 points. ... How will Jeff Green respond after being held without a field goal last time out? ... Boston as a whole is coming off its most lopsided loss of the season and it will be interesting to see how it bounces back in a tough matchup.
(Read full game preview)
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.
"I've got to do a better job of preparing the team," Rivers told reporters in Houston. "I've got to do a better job of playing the right guys, because everybody shouldn't play every night, the way we're playing. So we've got to figure this out. I've been saying that. This is the first game in a while -- I think we've been trending well, but this was a step backward for us. Just in the way we played. I thought this was a step backwards for us."
The Celtics entered Friday's game riding a modest two-game winning streak, hoping to continue to build what would have been their first legitimate string of wins all season. Instead, they came out flat, falling into a 17-4 hole less than six minutes into the game. Boston pulled itself out of that ditch with a much better defensive effort in the second frame (holding the Rockets to just 16 points) and led 45-43 going into halftime, but the third quarter played out very similar to the first.
The Rockets poured in 32 points in the third frame, and even though the C's added 25 points of their own, it was clear the momentum had shifted in Houston's favor. Rivers pointed to the first and third frames as Boston's key periods of struggle on Friday.
"I thought we started out flat [in the] beginning of the game, we started off flat in the third quarter," Rivers said. "After the middle of the first quarter, I thought our defense from that point until halftime was fantastic. Against a high-scoring team, I think they had 42 points or something? I mean, that's terrific defense. And then we come out with no energy, flat, to start the third quarter, and even from there, we just never really got back into it. We had some runs, but you never felt like we were going to win the game tonight. Don't know why. Very disappointed in the loss, though."
HOW THE GAME WAS WON
Second-year power forward Greg Smith came through with 20 points on 8-of-9 shooting in 22 minutes off the bench for the Rockets, and he was joined in double figures by James Harden (21 points), Chandler Parsons (15 points, 9 rebounds, 8 assists) and Toney Douglas (11 points). Paul Pierce led the Celtics with 18 points and 7 rebounds, while Rajon Rondo added 15 points and 13 assists.
A messy third quarter on the defensive end from the Celtics undermined the two-point halftime lead they gained after crawling out of an early 13-point hole. Houston dropped 32 points in the third quarter to Boston's 25 and carried a 75-70 edge into the fourth quarter. The Rockets' lead bounced between five and eight points for the first half of the fourth quarter, but a 3-pointer from Douglas with 2:52 to play put Houston up 96-85. C's coach Doc Rivers waived the white flag shortly after, electing to get his key guys a few extra minutes of rest with the second game of a back-to-back coming up Saturday night in San Antonio.
LEE GETS THE START
Rivers elected to re-insert Courtney Lee into the starting lineup, placing Jason Terry back into his more customary bench role. It was Lee's first start since Dec. 1, when he filled in for a suspended Rondo. Lee said earlier in the week that a return to Houston -- where he played last season -- wouldn't be personal to him, but he seemed to play with a considerable edge. He came through on both ends of the floor, playing solid defense on Harden at times to go along with 8 points, 3 rebounds, 2 steals and a block.
BOLD PLAY OF THE GAME
Jeff Green delivered another of his highlight-worthy dunks midway through the second quarter. This time, Rondo came up with the steal and patiently waited just outside the lane as his teammates streaked back up the floor. As Green hurried forward, Rondo slid him a pass and Green skied up just inside the painted area and delivered a thunderous right-handed slam.
Terry, coming off the bench for the first time in weeks, found himself in a steady shooting groove from long range for the entire game. He scored all 12 of his points on 3-pointers, knocking down four of his eight looks. Most of Terry's 3s came at a point when Boston desperately needed a bucket, though he couldn't help to stop Houston's late run.
WHAT IT MEANS
Even though Boston fought back out of an early first-quarter hole, it couldn't string together a consistent level of effort, and as such, suffered another frustrating loss. It's possible the Celtics were still recovering from their double-overtime victory over the Mavericks on Wednesday, which saw most of the team log heavier minutes than usual. Without question, the Celtics wanted to kick off this three-game road trip with a win, on top of already searching for a longer winning streak, but they couldn't dictate the game defensively. For better or worse, the C's won't have long to think about their latest back-and-forth effort, with a date with the Spurs set for Saturday night. Boston will just have to accept the loss, move on and hope to deliver a more spirited effort in San Antonio.
* HARDEN & THE GANG: Acquired from Oklahoma City before the start of the season, James Harden is averaging 25 points, 5.4 assists and 4.4 rebounds per game. Much of Houston's offense flows through him (more on that below), but keep this in mind: Boston's defensive philosophy has long been to limit the leader of the gang, but shut down his supporting cast. One player is unlikely to beat you (barring a LeBron James Game 6 type effort), so the Celtics will likely be more focused on limiting the damage done by a supporting cast that includes Chandler Parsons and Jeremy Lin (though Lin has struggled to carve out his role, with the ball going through Harden). Houston's younger players like Patrick Patterson and Marcus Morris have taken on expanded roles as well.
* SYNERGY SNAPSHOT: Offensively, the Rockets rank 11th in points per play, according to Synergy Sports data. Harden dominates the ball, having accounted for a whopping 21.4 percent of the team's total plays (next closest is Parsons at 13.6 percent). The Rockets are best when attacking through the pick-and-roll ball handler (with Harden accounting for 46 percent of the team's plays in that situation and Lin another 26.7 percent). Harden is shooting 54.7 percent off pick-and-rolls and gets to the line frequently, which will challenge Boston's trapping. Defensively, the Rockets rank 24th. Like the Celtics, Houston struggles mightily in transition, and even in half-court sets the Rockets are a middle-of-the-pack defense. They don't defend well in the post and Omer Asik's typically stout defensive numbers have suffered on a team that's not nearly as defensive-minded as the one he left behind in Chicago.
* STREAKING THROUGH TEXAS? Even as their brand of basketball has improved, the buzz around the Celtics has been a need to string wins together and get on a roll. Boston can match a season-high three-game winning streak (Nov. 10-14) with a win on Friday night. This is a daunting trip to attempt to build some momentum, particularly with the back-to-back looming Saturday in San Antonio, but the Celtics didn't take full advantage of a softer start to the schedule (outside the seven-game-in-10-day span) and now need to string those wins together against quality opponents.
* 3-POINT DEFENSE IN FOCUS: The Rockets rank 13th in the NBA in 3-point percentage (35.8 percent), but they put up triples in volume. Houston is second in attempts (570) and third in makes (204) with Parsons (45-of-117) and Harden (40-of-116) firing away. The Celtics have been burned by 3-point shooting at times in the 2012-13 campaign and need to prevent Houston from getting hot behind the arc. The Rockets rank third in the league in scoring (104.2), but give up the most points (104.8). If the Celtics can avoid a shootout and play their recent brand of defense, they have an excellent chance to extend their winning streak.
Bass did acknowledge briefly after the game that it's not specifically an ankle issue, but didn't elaborate on what the ailment is, only saying that he initially suffered the injury during Sunday's 115-111 overtime victory over the New York Knicks.
Too Many Minutes?
Kevin Garnett played 38 minutes during Tuesday's win, just two days after playing a season-high 41 against the New York Knicks on Sunday. Rivers prefers to keep Garnett right around the 30-minute mark, if not a few under, but maintained that a few higher-minute games from time to time shouldn't hurt his long-term production.
"I'm not worried about his minutes," Rivers said. "He's going to have some days where he plays 40 minutes. I don't like them back to back. But he's also going to have some 25-minute games. So, at the end of the season, it'll still say 30. How we get to it is how we get to it. Obviously if I had my pick, today would not have been a 40-minute night. What hurt us was Brandon gets hurt at the beginning of the game, so we're searching. Chris [Wilcox] gets into foul trouble, so now we have to extend Kevin's minutes."
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