Marcus Smart had his hands full on Sunday in dealing with Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook.
Life won’t get any easier for him tonight with the Celtics taking on James Harden and the Houston Rockets.
Although the Rockets (4-6) have gotten off to a slow start this season, Harden still remains one of the toughest covers in the NBA.
He is second in the league in scoring with a 28.4 points per game average, along with 6.1 assists and 6.5 rebounds per game.
“He’s (Harden) a different kind of player,” Smart told reporters. “You play him different than you play Russ.”
While the defensive game plan might be different, Smart said both have a similar mindset to the game.
“They both want to win,” Smart said. “You have to go out there and play and give it your all.”
For Boston (5-4) to win, there are several key areas that they must outperform a Houston squad whose talent level is better than their record.
Here is the Starting Five for keys to Boston extending its winning streak to three in a row.
FAST BREAK POINTS
This has been one of the few areas where the Rockets have looked like, well, the Rockets. They average 15.9 fast-break points per game, which ranks fifth in the NBA. They present a great challenge for a Celtics squad that’s giving up a league-low 8.9 fast-break points per game.
POINTS IN THE PAINT
With Dwight Howard at center and James Harden slashing his way to the basket, it’s not all that surprising that Houston has found tremendous success in scoring in the paint. Houston is scoring 47.4 points in the paint per game, which is the second-highest average in the NBA. In Boston’s 100-85 win at Oklahoma City, the Celtics limited the Thunder to just 28 points in the paint. For the season, they rank 12th in the NBA in giving up 43.8 points per game in the paint.
This is one area that the Celtics should find success at tonight. They come in getting 15.1 points on second-chance points which ranks sixth in the NBA. And the Rockets have struggled at keeping teams off the offensive boards, evident by them giving up 15.9 second-chance points per game which ranks 28th in the league.
POINTS OFF TURNOVERS
Boston’s highly regarded defense has made a good living out of opponent’s mistakes being quickly converted into points. They come into tonight’s game with 22.3 points coming off turnovers, the second-best figure in the league.
Once again, this is an area in which the Rockets have had problems most of this season. Houston is allowing opponents to score 18.7 points off of their turnovers, which ranks 25th in the NBA.
For all the problems Houston has had this season, the one thing they continue to do as well as any team in the NBA is get to the free throw line. Of course James Harden has a lot to do with that, with his league-best 11.9 free throw attempts per game. As a team, the Rockets averaged 27.4 free throw attempts per game, which ranks fourth in the league. Isaiah Thomas leads the Celtics with 6.1 free throw attempts, which ranks 17th in the NBA. As a team, Boston is taking 23.3 free throw attempts, which ranks 16th in the league.