Celtics-Rockets Recap: Houston Shows Championship Mettle With Win Over Boston

"In the first half they were getting a lot of easy looks, they made us scramble defensively".

"Defense (is) what it boiled down to", Gordon said.

When the two teams met three days after Christmas in Boston, the Rockets dominated the Celtics, putting up 62 points in the first half and holding Boston to 38.

Despite all the lead changes, Houston trailed for much of the night, and when Terry Rozier canned a 3-pointer with 4:01 to play, the deficit was at six, and it should've been more, but Kyrie Irving's reverse layup 57 seconds later rimmed out, and the Rockets took advantage. With 2.8 seconds left, Irving missed on goal again, but he didn't hit the rim to turn the ball over. Houston followed with a couple of misses by James Harden and Ariza which Horford followed up with another miss.

The Celtics had a surprising start to the year, but have since tapered off.

Houston got some revenge on the Celtics Saturday with a 123-120 win at Toyota Center. If the second unit continues to play at a level close to where it's been since the break, then the Celtics will be a really tough out come playoff time. He made both to put the Rockets up by four 119-115.

Rockets guard Eric Gordon led all scorers with 29 points (7-11 3PT) and three rebounds.

Ball's fourth 3-pointer cut San Antonio's lead to 105-104, and Randle made two free throws to give Los Angeles its first lead at 106-105 with 1:59 remaining. Marcus Smart's desperation three-pointer at the buzzer - after hauling in a full-court pass, turning and firing in about two seconds - stunningly drew iron but did not fall. And they would finish the game with 73 three-point attempts.

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Again, the sample size here is small, but all the little things that go into consistent success, including hustle, execution and attention too detail all have been on display while the bench has been in the game.

Ariza gave the Rockets 21 points, while Clint Capela pulled down 17 rebounds as the Rockets improve to 49-13, a game up on the Golden State Warriors in the loss column for the best record in the National Basketball Association. He scored 34 points and dished out ten assists, but he was not good in a game which saw Boston come back from 26 points down to win 99-98. Paul George added 21 points.

"I just thought they maximized more possessions than we did", Boston coach Brad Stevens said after the game (ESPN).

It's a huge game for both teams as they try to get the number one seed in their respective conferences.

Looking at the betting trends, the Celtics are 16-5-1 ATS in their last 22 games following a win of more than 10 points, 1-4 ATS in their last five games against a team with a winning record and 23-9 ATS in their last 32 road games. But they still have a seven-game lead on the Cleveland Cavaliers for the No. 2 spot.

ORLANDO, Fla. - Evan Fournier broke a tie on a long 3-pointer with 22.5 seconds left, and Orlando rookie Jonathan Isaac helped preserve the lead with his third block of the game in a win that stretched Memphis' losing streak to 13 games.

UP NEXT: The Celtics (44-20) will play the second of a three-game road trip Monday night against the Chicago Bulls (21-41).

CJ McCollum scored 28 points and Damian Lillard had 20 as the Portland Trail Blazers won their sixth straight game with a 108-100 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder.