HOUSTON -- Jaylen Brown went down with another ankle injury with 3:33 to play.
A simple pass to Jayson Tatum from Marcus Smart was too far ahead of Tatum to save before he stepped out of bounds.
Houston Rockets star James Harden was fouled (again) while attempting a 3-pointer moments later.
It was that kind of game down the stretch for the Boston Celtics, whose seven-game winning streak is a thing of the past after a 116-105 loss to the Rockets on Tuesday night.
Boston could not handle Houston’s 1-2 punch of Harden (42) and Russell Westbrook (36), who combined for 78 points.
Still, more than the points was the efficient manner in which two of the league’s most dynamic scorers generated offense.
The ending was a far cry from how the Celtics fought back one Houston surge after another most of the night to stay within striking distance.
Harden, playing with five fouls for most of the fourth quarter, lost the ball into the hands of Kemba Walker and the Celtics made him pay with a Tatum dunk that made it a 96-94 game with 5:40 to play.
Then, out of the Houston timeout, the Rockets got the ball back in the hands of Harden, who went to the free-throw line after officials whistled a foul on Jaylen Brown, who was guarding Harden as he attempted a 3-pointer.
Houston continued to pull away and Celtics coach Brad Stevens emptied the bench with the about two minutes left and Boston trailing, 113-98.
Tatum is the reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week, stringing together one big-time performance after another for the Celtics.
That’s not what the Celtics got out of him on Tuesday. He delivered a good-but-not-great performance against the Rockets.
Harden was dominant as always until Tatum forced him into defending him, which led to some serious foul trouble for Harden who picked up his fifth foul with 7:43 to play.
But Tatum was unable to lift the team from their offensive doldrums down the stretch as we have seen him do quite a bit lately.
While you love the fact that he’s impacting the game in several areas more often, these are the games when Tatum has to play like an All-Star.
And for far too many stretches against Houston, that didn’t happen.
He finished with a near double-double of 15 points and nine rebounds while dishing out four assists.
Westbrook has been on quite the scoring roll lately, but don’t get it twisted.
Harden remains the ultimate matchup nightmare for teams and he proved as much Tuesday in a pivotal third quarter.
Harden finished with a game-high 42 points, including 19 in a row in a third-quarter stretch which was huge in the Rockets overcoming a two-point halftime deficit to take a seven-point lead into the fourth.
That kind of offensive capability is why whoever the Rockets face in the playoffs, or whoever thinks Houston’s small-ball lineup won’t work, can never be comfortable with Harden in the building.
He’s too talented, too lethal a scorer for an opponent to feel comfortable with a lead.
For a number of stretches on Tuesday, Gordon Hayward was the catalyst that kept the Celtics afloat when points were hard to come by.
He had a team-high 20 points on 8-for-14 shooting. He also had eight rebounds and six assists.
It was the kind of performance Boston needed Hayward to deliver.
Still, there was just one problem.
He didn’t get much help from the rest of Boston’s core.
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