Rockets 109, Celtics 120 - Rockets frustratingly fall in Boston

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Following a tough loss to the Milwaukee Bucks on Monday that saw Houston allow 59 points in the paint, the Rockets allowed 64 points in the paint to the Boston Celtics on Monday for an extremely frustrating loss. Without the aide of Eric Gordon (who was a late scratch due to tightness in his lower back) and the defensive effort needed to contain Isaiah Thomas, the Rockets lost again – dropping six of the last nine games.

After missing their first six shot attempts, the Rockets hit four in a row to build an 11-point lead. Boston would follow that with a 7-0 run to take a 13-11 lead. Boston made their run on the backs of several missed shots from the Rockets, including a missed corner three from James Harden that saw Harden fail to get back on defense while arguing with a referee – a sign of the frustration to come for Harden and the Rockets.

Ryan Anderson had himself a very good first quarter offensively, scoring nine points on only two shots from the field (he hit four free throws, signaling his early aggressiveness to score near the basket). The Rockets as a team, however, only hit on 36.4% of their field goal attempts – and only 25% from the three-point line. Nonetheless, the Rockets managed to hold a 27-24 lead by the end of the opening period.

The second quarter was much better for the Rockets offensively, even if some of the made field goals were extremely lucky (looking at Corey Brewer and Sam Dekker for their unorthodox spin-move buckets). Houston managed to build an 11-point lead early in the second quarter, as the second unit hit 82% of their field goal attempts (9/11).

Tensions flared in the TD Center after back-to-back charge calls (one for each team) and a lane violation on a Clint Capela free throw that led to Jonas Jerebko getting called for a technical foul. After Capela missed the free throw, the Rockets retained possession after the ball went out of bounds. On the very next play, Corey Brewer drove to the lane and was knocked off course midair by Jerebko, hitting his head hard on the parquet court.

The game ground down to a halt towards the end of the second period, thanks to continued foul calls and a Marcus Smart technical foul after he fouled Harden on a drive to the basket. Amidst all the turmoil, the Rockets held a 58-52 lead going into halftime.

The third quarter opened with both teams trading a shot from beyond the arc, but the Celtics regained the lead following a 13-0 run. The Rockets managed to hang in with the Celtics, even though stretches of the third quarter was about as ugly as basketball can be. For the Celtics, Jae Crowder scored 12 points in the quarter and Isaiah Thomas had quietly pushed his scoring total up to 25. Trevor Ariza drained four threes in the period, and the Rockets went into the fourth quarter down 88-86.

Houston opened the fourth quarter with an 11-0 run, punctuated by a deep Ryan Anderson three. Then, Isaiah Thomas (the best 4th quarter scorer in the NBA) absolutely took over this game. He scored 13 of his 38 points and dished out five of his nine assists in the final period, and the Celtics would yet again build a double-digit lead before the game ended.

With 5:12 left in the game, a strange situation happened between James Harden and Jonas Jerebko after Marcus Smart tried to draw an offensive foul on Harden. Harden hesitated, realized he had a lane to the basket with Smart out of the picture, drove on Jae Crowder, and drew a foul. Harden, world-renowned flopper, flailed his arms out and (unintentionally, depending on which fan base you ask) threw a hand back and hit Jerebko in the face. Harden was called for a flagrant foul, and Isaiah Thomas absolutely took over – leading the Celtics on a 13-2 run. The game was all but over.

Despite the numbers (30 points, 12 assists, 6 rebounds), James Harden had a miserable game. He committed seven bad turnovers, shot 33% from the field (2/11 from three), and let his frustrations get the best of him. Without the firepower Eric Gordon brings to this team, the Rockets needed Harden to be more efficient and, given the team's recent struggles, a better leader. Frustration clearly set in, especially when Harden and Sam Dekker were caught jawing at one another, but it also looks like this team is clearly tired. The schedule has not been easy lately and losing only compounds upon that misery.

The Rockets next look to disrupt #TheProcess on Friday when they head to Philadelphia to take on Joel Embiid and the red-hot 76ers (yes, that’s a real sentence I typed).

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.

Wednesday’s game ball goes to Sam Dekker, I guess.

At the end of the day, this was yet another bad game for the entire team – a theme for 2017 so far. Harden put up the only impressive numbers, but Dekker brought the efficiency that Patrick Beverley brought on Monday. Dekker scored 15 points on 50% shooting, which isn’t anything to write home about. However, given the Rockets frustrating play as of late, Dekker’s battle through the “rookie wall” is encouraging. Despite the argument with Harden towards the end of the game (tensions were high, that’s going to happen), Dekker’s an important piece for this team – especially come playoff time.

Here’s to hoping Dekker can take more and more of Corey Brewer’s minutes with every passing game.

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