BOSTON – You won’t find a book, manual or pamphlet on how to effectively defend Houston’s James Harden.
But the game plan used by the Boston Celtics?
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Their ability to not let Harden ever get into a good flow was one of the biggest factors in Boston’s 120-109 win over the Rockets. Harden, who ranks among the NBA’s top-five in points per game (28.6) and assists (11.6), had to work extremely hard to get to his season average. He finished with 30 points on 6-for-18 shooting while dishing out 12 assists but also turning the ball over seven times.
Celtics head coach Brad Stevens decided to put rookie Jaylen Brown in the starting lineup and had him defending Harden early on.
While this led to Brown picking up a lot of early fouls, the 6-foot-7 Brown’s length and athleticism made Harden work for his shots early on. And that paved the way for Jae Crowder, Marcus Smart and Al Horford on switches, to limit one of the most explosive scorers in the NBA who is on everyone’s short list for the league’s MVP award.
“He (Brown) did his part on him and wore him down,” Smart said. “And Jae came in and then I did and we mixed it up on him and kept him guessing.”
Of the trio, Crowder probably spent the most possessions defending the MVP candidate which might seem a bit odd considering Crowder is the Celtics' starting small forward while Harden plays the point.
“One of the things that people don’t realize is how big he (Harden) is,” Stevens said. “I don’t know what he weighs, but he’s got to be 6-6, 240. I mean, he’s a strong guy. So it’s hard for small guys to guard him. We wanted to be bigger. I thought we would have Jaylen on him a little bit more, but we wanted to be Smart and Jae and then we knew we would switch late.”
Said Crowder: “He’s going to score the ball. I just tried to make it as tough as possible. A few possessions I would like to have back, but at the end of the day I just wanted to contain him as much as possible. I felt like he never really took over the game. That’s what it’s all about with a guy like him.”
Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds from Wednesday night’s game.
Isaiah Thomas: This was one of Thomas’ most balanced performances this season, as he scored a game-high 38 points to go with nine assists.
James Harden: Credit Boston’s defense for making this a tougher-than-usual night for Harden. Despite shooting just 6-for-18 from the field, he still managed to score 30 points and dish out 12 assists while grabbing six rebounds.
Jae Crowder: This was one of Crowder’s best games at both ends of the floor. He was an impact performer in being the primary defender on Harden, and he still managed to tally his second double-double this season with 23 points and 10 rebounds while dishing out four assists.
Al Horford: We’re used to seeing Horford fill up the stat sheet, but tonight’s game also featured a series of multiple effort, all-out hustle plays that played a huge role in Boston getting the win. He had a near double-double of 20 points and nine assists with three rebounds and three steals with a pair of blocked shots.
Jonas Jerebko: This was not a big night scoring-wise for Jerebko, but he was definitely an integral part of this win. Making his first start of the season, Jerebko had seven points on 3-for-3 shooting to go with seven rebounds and a blocked shot.
Patrick Beverley: I didn’t expect him to shut down Isaiah Thomas, but I did anticipate Beverley would make Thomas work harder for his points. Not only did Thomas have a big scoring game while shooting the ball efficiently, but Beverly missed five of his six shots (he dished out eight assists which was a positive), and wound up fouling out with three points in 32 minutes.