Tonight, the Rockets toughed out a second quarter run from a perennial playoff team and held on to win by double digits. Despite exceeding the Celtics’ turnovers by 5 (17 vs 12), and extracting lackluster performances from Lin and Patterson, the Rockets played some of their best defense of the season to date and pulled back to .500 yet again.
Perhaps the C’s were thinking ahead to their game against the Spurs tomorrow, perhaps it’s the continuation of a season long trend of killing eastern conference teams, or perhaps the Rockets just always seem to hang tough against the Celtics. But the young Rockets put together a win over the veteran Celtics and looked like a decent basketball team in the process. Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo did what they could, but the rim and the defense were not friendly to the Celtics tonight, who went home with an underwhelming 40% from the field.
James Harden got off to an early start, and he was aggressive all night. The tough Celtics defense forced him into a poor 35% from the field (6/17 shooting), but he still led all scorers with 21 points. His 5 assists, 5 rebounds and 3 steals rounded out a line with only one turnover. In a night of many clanked shots, the 25% man was king.
The biggest pleasant surprise of the night was Greg Smith, who continues to improve his game. He his 8 of his 9 attempts to notch 20 points off the bench in only 22 minutes. His rebounds were merely adequate (6), but his offensive and defensive game seem to improve with every night During a seemingly endless 2nd quarter devoid of scoring, he provided some of the few bright spots in the Houston offense.
And then the third quarter came, and all was put right. Despite blowing an 8 point lead in the 2nd, the Rockets came back strong in the second half. They gave up only 44 points in that half, and went on a strong run in the fourth to put the game away. Toney Douglas continued to close out games, largely due to his willingness to take any and every shot he’s given. He buried a huge two to force a timeout, then followed it with a floater to seal the game. It seems increasingly like Douglas is an effective backup shooting guard, with Harden moving to the point late in games. Douglas didn’t notch a single assists, while Lin had 7.
Parsons was another bright spot, racking up a well rounded line of 15 points on 5-7 shooting, 9 rebounds and 8(!) assists. He’s able to do just about anything out there, except maybe guard Kevin Garnett. He was put on the veteran big man a few times, and did as good a job as was possible, despite not really having the size necessary to prevent Garnett’s deadly midrange shot. All in all, Parsons continues a solid push for Most Improved Player consideration.
The rest of the Rockets did their jobs, but hardly stood out on the offense. Asik got a respectable 9 and 10. Patterson played good defense, but only played for 25 minutes. 9 points on 50% shooting is good, but 3 rebounds is merely decent. Morris was barely present offensively (1-9 in 16 minutes) and good on the boards (7). Delfino bounced back a bit in his shooting, hitting half his shots for 9 points. Delfino tried to do a bit too much offensively, though, making risky passes and trying to create. This bravado led to 5 turnovers.
Despite Rondo’s ball hawking (4 steals) and a solid shot from Garnett, the Rockets outlasted, leading to the Celtics effectively throwing in the towel in the last few minutes. This young team saw an opportunity, and they struck to get their 11th win on the season, propelling them back to the 8th seed. Despite being in the nadir of a rebuild, the Rockets looks like they aren’t willing to accept a losing season. More impressively, they seem to improve each week. Despite some missteps and growing pains, this is a team that can make good when they’re finally given a game on ESPN.