James Harden

Celtics-Rockets Takeaways: Too much firepower from Harden, Westbrook against C's

Celtics-Rockets Takeaways: Too much firepower from Harden, Westbrook against C's

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. 

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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. 

JAYSON TATUM

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. 

JAMES HARDEN

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.

GORDON HAYWARD

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. 

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Clippers-Celtics, which begins Thursday at 7 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live. You can also stream on the MyTeams App.

NBA Highlights: Too much James Harden and Russell Westbrook as Rockets end Celtics win streak at 7

NBA Highlights: Too much James Harden and Russell Westbrook as Rockets end Celtics win streak at 7

FINAL SCORE: Rockets 116, Celtics 105

IN BRIEF: James Harden scored 42 points and Russell Westbrook 36 as the Houston Rockets pulled away late and ended the Celtics' winning streak at seven with a 116-105 victory in Houston. Gordon Hayward led the C's with 20 points. BOX SCORE


CELTICS RECORD: 37-16

HIGHLIGHTS

SMART BLOCK + TATUM HOOP:

WESTBROOK LOSES HANDLE, WANNAMAKER DOESN'T:

IT WORKS OUT AS AN EASY TATUM DUNK:

HAYWARD FOR 3:

JT CUTS IT TO 3 IN 3RD:

TATUM CUTS IT TO 2:


UP NEXT:
Vs. L.A. Clippers, Thursday, 8 p.m., TNT
@Minnesota Timberwolves, Friday, Feb. 21, 8 p.m., NBC Sports Boston
@ L.A. Lakers, Sunday, Feb. 23, 3:30 p.m., ABC

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Clippers-Celtics, which begins Thursday at 7 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live. You can also stream on the MyTeams App.

Marcus Smart's defense on James Harden should decide Celtics-Rockets outcome

Marcus Smart's defense on James Harden should decide Celtics-Rockets outcome

One of the most exciting 1-on-1 matchups in the NBA will take place Tuesday night in Houston when Rockets guard James Harden goes up against Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart.

Smart is one of the best defensive players in the league. He earned a spot on the All-NBA defensive first team last season, and he's a candidate for Defensive Player of the Year this season.

Harden is one of the best pure scorers pro basketball has ever seen. He doesn't play the most watchable brand of basketball, but he's on pace for his fifth straight season scoring 29-plus points per game. He's scored 30 or more points per game in each of the last two campaigns, and he's averaging a league-high 35.2 points per game this season. He's 5.2 points ahead of Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo in second place.

LIVE stream the Celtics all season and get the latest news and analysis on all of your teams from NBC Sports Boston by downloading the My Teams App.

It's safe to say Harden will be one of the most difficult players for Smart to defend all season, but the Celtics star has enjoyed plenty of success against the Rockets superstar in the past. Here's a look at the Harden vs. Smart matchup stats from the last four Celtics vs. Rockets games. Harden shoots well below his normal field goal and 3-point percentages when Smart is defending him.

Smart has many skills that make him a quality perimeter defender. He's quick, he's physical, he anticipates well, he moves his feet and he's intelligent. Smart also gets under his opponents' skin, and there was no better example of that than when he drew back-to-back offensive fouls on Harden in a matchup at TD Garden during the 2017-18 season.

 

The Celtics are a bad matchup for the Rockets in general. Houston is playing an ultra-small ball lineup after trading away center Clint Capela in a four-team deal that brought 3-and-D forward Robert Covington to the Rockets last week. The Rockets' best lineup doesn't even have a player taller than 6-foot-6 in it. The Celtics can play small ball, too, and they have lots of versatility on the wing with Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Smart able to switch any pick-and-roll.

The Celtics have won seven consecutive games entering Tuesday, and if Smart is able to hold Harden below his season averages, Boston's win streak should extend again.

NBA Power Rankings: Moving on after the trade deadline

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Rockets, which begins Tuesday at 8:30 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live followed by tip-off at 9:30 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.