The Boston Celtics aren’t a good NBA team this season. They aren’t supposed to be competitive, given the prizes that await the top teams in the NBA lottery next summer and the long-term benefits of landing a potential phenom player. The Houston Rockets are hoping to occupy the lofty ranks of championship contenders, a caliber of play which requires comfortable wins over lottery-bound teams like Boston. It would be easy to discount this win if it weren’t for the fact that for the first time this season, the Rockets looked in sync.
Given, the Celtics have a team that can be charitably described at inexperienced. Given, the Celtics missed open shots repeatedly and had inexplicable turnovers. All caveats and asterisks aside, however, the Rockets gave not only their best effort of the season but experienced their best results. The game ended with a twenty-four point victory for the Rockets, and it wasn’t as close as that makes it seem. Elite teams have to be able to blow out the lottery dwellers of the league, and that’s exactly what happened. Terrence Jones detonated, the rest of the team picked and rolled the Celtics to death, and the starters got to rest up for a division rival game the following evening.
The bad news is that Ömer Aşık didn’t play until the game was well into garbage time, implying that he’s still residing in head coach Kevin McHale’s doghouse. The noises from his camp lately have been conciliatory, but there’s still clearly a rift between Aşık and the Rockets organization. As long as he plays out the weeks until a trade in good faith, both sides will be on track to an amicable resolution. If he continues to sulk, things will get worse for everyone involved. The fact that he took the court at all implies movement in the correct direction, and this will continue to be a storyline that’s impossible to ignore.
The good news? There’s a lot of good news. Terrence Jones was the star of the show, going off for 24 points to lead all scorers. He sank his first 8 shots and ended up an incredible 10-12 from the field, including 3-4 from three point land. He grabbed 9 boards and picked up a pair of blocks to go with only 1 turnover in the performance of his young career. His defense is improving, his decision making is progressing, and his shot is getting better. The Rockets had a major hole at the power forward slot, and Jones is doing everything in his power to justify himself as the solution. He’s averaged a double-double since he entered the starting lineup, and by giving Houston a workable solution at the four, he’s probably doing more to increase Ömer Aşık’s trade value than Ömer Aşık himself.
Several other Rockets played basketball tonight, too. Donatas Motiejunas had the best block of the game, chasing down Kelly Olynyk to erase his fastbreak and give the Rockets their tenth block on the night. Aside from that, he looked serviceable if not exactly good, missing all 4 three point attempts but grabbing five boards and playing acceptable defense. Patrick Beverley seemed to find his three point stroke again, something he’s badly needed in the first then games of the season.
The whole starting unit, in fact, was lethal from deep, shooting 7-10 in total. Harden looked to pass more than shoot, despite his perfect 3-3 from three, and ended up with 5 assists and 15 points on 8 shots. Howard was good, scoring in the paint on his way to another double double: 11 rebounds and an impressive 10 points on 4 shots. In fact, the whole team was good. Howard, Jones, Parsons, Lin Beverley and Harden all scored in the double digits, leading the Rockets to the most even-handed scoring effort of the year.
The Rockets got off to a terrifying 18-1 start and never looked back. There were no brief comebacks, no scoring droughts, no extended periods of defensive collapse. The Houston Rockets ran the pick and roll, high-speed, transition heavy offense they excelled at last season and in the preseason, and it worked just as well as could be hoped. A win against a struggling team isn’t as impressive as a win against a contender, but any win this clean and well-run can only be a good sign for the Rockets.