Red-hot Rockets at full strength for Celtics rematch

Red-hot Rockets at full strength for Celtics rematch

HOUSTON – There is no hotter team in the NBA right now than the Houston Rockets, who are currently riding a league-best winning streak of 14.

Indeed, they are a different-looking team since Boston’s epic 99-98 comeback win on Dec. 28.

And that change can be summed up in two words: Chris Paul.

While James Harden is once again a popular talking point in MVP conversations, it is Paul’s presence that has elevated Houston from being one of the top teams that falls short of contending with Golden State to a club that’s looking the Warriors in the eye for Western Conference supremacy and isn’t blinking one bit.

“They're a special team,” Brad Stevens said.

And now they’re a special team at full strength as the Rockets look to keep on their winning ways while exacting a bit of revenge in the process when they face the Celtics on Saturday.

When Boston rallied from a 26-point deficit in the third quarter to win 99-98 over the Rockets in December, Houston played that game minus two key players – Paul and Clint Capela.

Paul, who was out with a left adductor strain injury, is a nine-time All-Star, two-time Olympic gold medal winner and statistically speaking, one of the most decorated active players.

So, for the 32-year-old Paul to not play? Yeah, you’re gonna notice his absence for sure.

But the 23-year-old Capela has emerged as a vital cog in Houston’s strong season, which had them atop the Western Conference standings at the All-Star break.

The 6-foot-10 center, who missed the Dec. 28 game against Boston with a right orbital fracture, is averaging a double-double this season of 14.6 points and 11.1 rebounds while shooting 5.7 percent from the field.

“They're really good and the way that they play offense is obviously really tough to stop,” Stevens said. “And then defensively, I think they've really improved. Very versatile, very long, play with multiple efforts, very good.”

Aron Baynes echoed similar sentiments about the Rockets (48-13), who despite a strong run of success lately, remain just a half-game ahead of Golden State (48-14) for the best record in the West but can take solace in the fact that they have already won the head-to-head season series.

“They're very talented,” Baynes said, adding, “of course their back court is super talented, but you know they have great guys down the bench, one through 12. It's everyone, it's just a matter of we have to go out there and play our team ball and our team defense and then we should be all right.”

NBCSB Breakfast podcast: Maybe next year will be the Celtics' year

NBC Sports Boston Illustration

NBCSB Breakfast podcast: Maybe next year will be the Celtics' year

1:31 - With the results of Kyrie Irving’s second opinion on he knee looming, the Celtic’s season is certainly up in the air. A. Sherrod Blakely, Chris Mannix, Kyle Draper and Gary Tanguay debate how and if Kyrie should be used if he returns.

6:02 - Back in October Michael Felger prematurely said the Bruins season was over. The B’s marketing team featured Felger in an ad for playoff tickets now that the Bruins have clinched the playoffs. Felger, Trenni and Gary react to the commercial and discuss the Bruins playoff chances.

11:47 - The Patriots are making moves! on Tursday the Pats made deals with LaAdrian Waddle, Marquis Flowers and Patrick Chung. Phil Perry, Michael Holley, Troy Brown and Tom Curran discuss how despite these moves, the Patriots should still be in search of a left tackle.

Greg Monroe looking forward to his 2nd taste of playoffs

File Photo

Greg Monroe looking forward to his 2nd taste of playoffs

BOSTON – We live in a world filled with success stories that came about by accident. 

The invention of the microwave oven.

Post-It notes.

The creation of potato chips.

The Boston Celtics’ game-winning play against Oklahoma City earlier this week qualfies; a play in which there were multiple miscues made by the Celtics prior to Marcus Morris’ game-winning shot. 


All these Celtics injuries have made Brad Stevens a mad scientist of sorts with some unusual lineups that may be on display tonight against the guard-centric Portland Trail Blazers. 

In Boston’s 100-99 win over the Thunder on Tuesday, we saw Stevens utilize a lineup with Al Horford and Greg Monroe, in four different stints.

Monroe, who had 17 points off the bench - the most he has scored as a Celtic -  enjoyed playing with Horford.

“Al’s so smart. He’s seen it all in this league,” Monroe told NBC Sports Boston. “He’s an all-star. Very cerebral player, unselfish. So it’s easy playing with him. He can space, drive, make plays. I feel like I can make plays, driving. It’s fun playing with him. I look forward to getting out there with him more.”

Horford had similar praise for playing with Monroe.

“Coach (Brad Stevens) made a great move bringing Greg back in, in the fourth, playing us together,” Horford said. “He made some great plays, passing the ball and just … timely plays. It’s one of those things, the more we play with each other the more comfortable we’ll get. I thought it was very positive.”

Monroe’s role has become significantly more important with the season-ending injury (torn meniscus, left knee) to Daniel Theis. And his ability to play well with various lineups will only improve Boston’s chances of weathering this latest storm of injuries which comes on the eve of the playoffs. 

And while there’s a certain amount of pleasure all players take in being on a playoff-bound team, Monroe understands better than most NBA veterans just how special it is to be headed towards the postseason.

In his eighth season, this will only be Monroe’s second time participating in the playoffs. 

The first time? 

That was last year, with the Milwaukee Bucks. 

“This is what everybody plays for, I hope,” Monroe said. “This is what I play for, to get into the postseason, make a run. It’s the best situation. I’ve been through a lot in my career, this year. I’m grateful. I don’t take anything for granted. I’m going to do whatever I can to help the team.”

And he has done that lately.

Monroe comes into tonight’s game having scored in double figures each of the last four games, a season high for the 6-foot-11 center. 

Having spent most of his NBA career watching instead of participating in the playoffs, Monroe is out to prove that he can in fact be a significant contributor to a team that’s postseason-bound.

“For sure. You have to have a little chip, a little fire, at least in my eyes,” Monroe said. “I’ve never doubted myself. It’s about being between those lines and being the best player I can be. That’s what I’m focused on.”