Rockets 107, Celtics 106 - Rockets narrowly beat Celtics to start home stand

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The Houston Rockets kept their winning ways alive on Monday in a narrow victory over the Boston Celtics at the Toyota Center in Houston. Following a brutal stretch on the road that saw Houston play 14 of the first 20 games on the road, this game marked the beginning of a stretch that will see the Rockets play in front of Red Nation for seven of the next nine. It was an ugly game, but the Rockets buckled down late and a superstar took over to get the win.

The first half was ugly, to say the least. Despite the Rockets hitting five straight shots early in the first quarter to build an 11-point lead, the Rockets committed nine turnovers in the first quarter. Luckily, they converted on a decent percentage of their three-point attempts (38.1%) and held the Celtics to less than 40% shooting from the field and only 27.8% from behind the arc (5/18).

James Harden managed to score 21 points in the first half on the strength of perhaps his greatest skill (and one that drives opponents and his critics absolutely crazy) – getting to the free throw line. In the first half, he hit all 11 of his free throw attempts and led the Rockets to a 58-48 lead heading into halftime. Before both teams fully made their ways to the locker rooms for halftime, Isaiah Thomas managed to get himself called for a technical foul – undoubtedly frustrated at the calls the Rockets were getting. Harden converted that free throw before the second half started.

The third quarter was a major problem for the Rockets. They looked like a tired team and it really showed in their shooting percentage from downtown; they only converted one of ten attempts in the quarter – a putrid 10%. Meanwhile, Boston caught fire from behind the arc, draining five of their seven attempts.

Al Horford, who strongly considered joining the Rockets this past summer, really kicked his game into another gear in the third. He scored seven points and assisted on four Celtic baskets in the quarter, on top of locking down the paint. His defense was superb throughout the night, and helped Boston build a six-point lead by the end of the quarter. He would finish the game with 21 points, six rebounds, and nine assists for the game.

The early part of the fourth quarter didn’t bode well for the Rockets’ chances of winning this game, given that a really energetic lineup of Beverley/Gordon/Brewer/Dekker/Harrell failed to really convert on the offensive end. However, they’re energy kept the Rockets close enough for James Harden to come in and put his superstar stamp on this game.

Harden was held to only three points in the third quarter, but immediately made a scoring impact in the fourth – hitting two quick layups. Harden would finish with 13 points in the quarter (and 37 for the game), including six more free throws and a clutch three to give the Rockets enough cushion to win this game.

The last few minutes of this game were a whirlwind. With three minutes left in the game, Patrick Beverley got in between two Celtics players on a simple handoff, stole the ball, and hit a layup to tie the game at 100. On the next Rockets possession, Trevor Ariza got into the paint and found a cutting Montrezl Harrell for an emphatic dunk that had Toyota Center rocking. An Avery Bradley backdoor layup tied the game at 102, but Harden hit two more free throws and the aforementioned clutch three to give the Rockets a five-point lead. Bradley fired back with a long two (probably should have been a three, but the refs kept it at two after review) and the Rockets were up 107-104 with roughly 47 seconds left.

The Rockets next possession was a bad one, resulting in a terrible shot. However, Beverley’s hustle is not to be denied, and he secured a crucial offensive rebound. He quickly got the ball back to Harden, who faced an immediate double team. Unfortunately, while pivoting to get himself free, Harden caught Marcus Smart (who had 13 points, seven rebounds, and great defense) with an elbow that was called a flagrant foul. This meant that Smart would get two free throws and the Celtics would get the ball. Smart hit both free throws and the Celtics, down 107-106, would have a chance to win the game with about ten seconds.

After Isaiah missed a tough layup and both teams struggled to secure the rebound, the ball went off of Harden to give the Celtics one more possession to win the game – this time with five seconds left. What’s worse for Houston is that Eric Gordon rolled his ankle on this play and left the game (it doesn’t seem like a serious injury).

On the final inbound play of the game, the Celtics got the ball to Horford on the wing, and he took advantage of both Beverley and Harrell stumbling over a fallen Thomas to get a great look at a layup – that he MISSED. Harden secured the rebound and the Rockets won the game. Horford would love to have that one back.

The Rockets have won eight of the last ten, and push their record up to 14-7 on the season. They’ll next face the Los Angeles Lakers in Houston on Wednesday night.

Game Ball 

This is a segment of the game recaps that will give the proverbial game ball to a player that proved to be most valuable to the Rockets on a given night. This award won’t necessarily go to the player that puts up the best numbers, but to the player that made the greatest impact on the team – tangible or intangible.

Sunday’s game ball goes to James Harden.

In an ugly game that saw ugly play from almost everyone on the floor, including the ‘Beard’ and his ten turnovers, Harden was the best source of offense for the Rockets. He scored 37 points on only 14 shots (talk about efficiency!), secured eight rebounds, and dished out eight assists. Plus, he did what superstars do when the team struggles to get it going – take over and win games.

James Harden has been ridiculous this season, and there’s no way the Rockets would have double-digit wins (let alone twice as many wins as losses) without him.

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