HOUSTON – When the Houston Rockets blew a 26-point lead at the TD Garden, Rockets players naturally felt they let a game they should have won, get away.
The Boston Celtics seemingly returned the favor on Saturday, spending most of the game playing with a lead before succumbing to a late Houston surge that ended with the Rockets rallying for a 123-120 win.
A last-second, off-balance 3-point heave by Marcus Smart hit the side of the rim as time expired.
Houston (49-13) extended its winning streak to 15 in a row while the Celtics (44-20) suffered their first loss since returning from the all-star break.
James Harden had 26 for the Rockets while Eric Gordon led all players with 29 off the bench. Boston was paced by Marcus Morris’ 21 points as well as Greg Monroe chipping in with 18 points – the most he has scored as a Celtic.
Kyrie Irving had a rough night for Boston, finishing with 18 points on 6-for-17 shooting.
Boston seemingly had the game in control with 113-107 lead, only for the Rockets to go on a 10-2 run capped off by a Trevor Ariza 3-pointer.
The Marcus Smart vs James Harden 2.0 narrative that we all were so longing to see play out on Saturday, never quite materialized the way we envisioned.
It was Jaylen Brown who spent a good chunk of the game defending Harden, with Smart’s time on Harden picking up in the second half due to Brown being in foul trouble.
Smart tried his best to take away Harden’s air space while Harden continued to assert himself as the lethal scorer we’ve seen for years.
The tone for the down-to-the-wire finish was set from the outset.
Boston fell behind 30-22 following a lay-up by Luc Mbah a Moute, only for Boston to close out the first quarter with a 10-0 run which put them ahead 32-30 after the first.
The Celtics continued to surge ahead early in the first and led by as man as nine points before the Rockets got back in the game with a 12-3 run to tie the game at 50 following a 3-pointer by James Harden.
But the Celtics continued to play with a heightened level of purpose and focus that allowed them to withstand each Houston surge.
And with a strong showing from the bench, Boston went into the half leading 64-58.