Celtics fail to finish off Rockets, lose 123-120

USA TODAY Sports Photo

Celtics fail to finish off Rockets, lose 123-120

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.


Blakely: Stevens has this coaching in March stuff down

Blakely: Stevens has this coaching in March stuff down

Sometimes we forget that a big part of why Brad Stevens is in Boston is because of what he has done as a coach this time of year.

He led a pair of Butler teams to deep postseason runs before coming up short in a pair of national title games.

Well, he’s embarking on a different kind of March Madness in leading the Celtics to a string of improbable wins, the latest being a 105-100 victory at Portland on Friday night.

It was the kind of victory that when you start to roll out the reasons why Stevens should be this season’s Coach of the Year winner, folks will use the win at Portland as an example.

The Blazers are not only one of the better teams at home, but they came in having won 13 of 14 games with the lone loss coming to Houston, which has the best record in the NBA.

But what made the victory so unexpected was the cut-and-paste lineup Stevens has employed because of a long rash of injuries.

Kyrie Irving missed his fifth consecutive game and is expected to be lost for another three to six weeks after having a procedure to on Saturday to help alleviate some of the soreness in his left knee.

Jaylen Brown has missed several games with a concussion, but he has progressed to where he's now questionable for the game in Sacramento on Sunday night. 

Boston was also without Marcus Smart (right thumb) who won’t be back until sometime in the playoffs.

And that doesn’t factor in Gordon Hayward (dislocated left ankle) or Daniel Theis (torn meniscus, left knee), both out for the season.

It’s easy to chalk up Stevens’ success to great Xs and O’s work.

But he’s doing more than that.

He’s inspiring a level of confidence in players that generated results exceeding all expectations; that is, expectations outside of their locker room.

Even when this team struggled with no clear signs of hope on the horizon, they didn’t blink.

Rather than use their less-than-ideal state as a justification for poor play, they funneled that energy and focus into becoming a better team - not better players, but a better team.

Because frankly, that is what we’ve seen from this group all season. Of course, you have your star in Irving, but this team has been a get-it-done-or-else squad all year that doesn’t get too locked into the success or struggles of any one teammate.

And that has allowed Boston to withstand the kind of injuries to key players that would have crippled many other teams.

But with the lack of bodies, there has been a lack of respect for how good this team really is.

Stevens has tapped into that and used it to help focus this team on playing great and most important, giving themselves a chance to win regardless of the opponent, regardless of how dire a situation may be.

And that has created the kind of March Madness Celtics fans are absolutely lovin’ right now.



Optimism that Kyrie will be back for playoffs

Optimism that Kyrie will be back for playoffs

Kyrie Irving underwent a left knee procedure on Saturday that will keep the five-time All-Star guard out for at least the start of the playoffs.

The Celtics indicated that Irving will be out for 3-6 weeks.

According to the Celtics, the procedure was to remove a tension wire in his left knee. The wire was originally placed there as part of the surgical repair of the fractured patella injury Irving suffered in the 2015 NBA Finals when he played for the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Removing the wire is expected to lessen the irritation it was causing in Irving’s left patellar tendon.

The fractured patella injury from in 2015 has fully healed and, according to the Celtics, Irving’s knee has been found to be “completely structurally sound.”

The timetable for Irving's return is roughly the same as that of Celtics guard Marcus Smart, who last week had surgery to repair a torn tendon in his right thumb. 

Irving, who turned 26 on Friday, finishes his first regular season with Boston appearing in 60 games while averaging 24.4 points per game on a career-best 49.1 percent shooting from the field.