BOSTON – For weeks, Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens has implored his players to play more physical.
Well the call was answered on Wednesday as the Celtics played arguably their best game of the season in knocking off the Houston Rockets 120-109.
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For Boston (27-18), the victory snapped a three-game losing streak but more important, it showed that the Celtics could be physical and still win.
The physical play wasn't the only twist we saw with the Celtics, who started Jonas Jerebko and Jaylen Brown in place of Amir Johnson and Marcus Smart. They joined a starting five that included Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder and Al Horford.
After the score was tied at 98, the Celtics went on a 13-2 run that put them in firm control of the game.
Thomas had another monster game for Boston, scoring a game-high 38 points, 13 of which came in the fourth quarter. Boston also got a strong game from Crowder who tallied his second double-double of the season with 23 points and 10 rebounds along with four assists. Horford had a near double-double with 20 points and nine rebounds.
For the Rockets (34-15), James Harden led the way with a double-double of 30 points and 12 assists to go with six rebounds.
Boston took a slim 88-86 lead into the fourth after Harden made three free throws late in the third quarter for what turned out to be the final points of the quarter.
It was a relatively close game in the first quarter with neither team leading by more than five points. But the Rockets began to pull away in the second as they pushed their lead to as many as 11 points.
But the Celtics, playing the kind of physical, nothing-easy-around-the-rim basketball that we have rarely seen from them this season, showed the kind of fight we have seldom seen from them this season.
While Boston’s foul total was on the rise, so was the amount of gritty plays that allowed them to keep pace with a Houston team that came into the game with the third-best record in the NBA.
Houston opened the fourth quarter by scoring five of the first seven points which included a 3-pointer by Ryan Anderson that put the Rockets ahead 91-90. He finished with 19 points and five rebounds.
Boston countered with a 3-pointer by Horford (his second make in as many attempts at that point in the game) that put Boston back ahead 93-91 only for the Rockets to make it a 93-all game following a Clint Capela dunk.
And as we have seen repeatedly this season, Thomas went into takeover mode.
But as much as the Celtics have relied on him to generate offense, it was their defense that really dominated the night.
They forced Houston into turning the ball over 17 times which led to 23 points. Boston won the rebounding war by a dominant 48-30 margin which heavily factored in them outscoring Houston 64-48 on points in the paint.