The Boston Celtics came up short against the worst team in the NBA on Monday night.
They traveled to Houston for the second leg of their six-game road trip and were humbled by the lowly Rockets. Houston, which improved to 16-52 on the season, led by as many as 13 points and was in control for most of the night. The Celtics cut the deficit to one point late in the fourth quarter but couldn't complete the comeback as they fell, 111-109.
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Jaylen Brown (43 points) and Malcolm Brogdon (20 points off the bench) did their part to keep Boston in the game. Jayson Tatum dropped 22 points but had an off shooting night (2-10 3PT) and missed the game-tying layup as time expired.
Five Rockets players scored in double figures including Jalen Green (28 points) and Jabari Smith Jr. (24 points).
The Celtics are now 47-22 on the season and will look to bounce back Wednesday night in Minnesota. First, here are our takeaways from Monday's ugly loss to the Rockets.
Rebounding woes continue
The Celtics have been inconsistent on the boards as of late. They got away with it in Saturday's win over Atlanta, but it cost them in Monday's defeat.
Houston out-rebounded Boston 48-38, including 15-10 on the offensive glass which led to 17 second-chance points. The Celtics' offensive rebounding was a glaring issue with the game in the balance during the fourth quarter and ultimately led to their demise.
The poor performances on the boards show just how important big man Robert Williams is to the C's success. Without him, there simply hasn't been enough production from the frontcourt outside of Al Horford. Williams said he'll ramp up his workout on Tuesday, but there is still no timetable for his return to the court.
Tough night for Tatum
This was a night to forget for Jayson Tatum. The Celtics star couldn't find his groove offensively as he started just 1-for-9 from the field (1-7 3PT). He finished the first half with nine points on 3-of-12 shooting and it didn't get much better from there.
Tatum hit a couple of big shots down the stretch, including during his 13-point third quarter, but he was mostly held in check as he finished with 22 points on 8-of-22 shooting (3-10 3PT). The 25-year-old also turned the ball over four times, with his most crucial turnover coming with 23 seconds left in regulation.
After the loss, he accepted responsibility for the Celtics' lack of energy.
"I take the blame for that," Tatum said. "I didn't necessarily start the best and I feel like that kind of spread throughout the team. And so I have to be better starting the game, just from an energy level."
It was a fitting end to Tatum's night as he missed a layup that would have sent the game into overtime. He'll look to turn the page when the Celtics visit the Timberwolves on Wednesday.
Making the loss to the last-place Rockets sting even more was how it impacted the Celtics in the Eastern Conference standings. The No. 1 seed slipped further out of reach with only 13 games remaining in the regular season.
The first-place Milwaukee Bucks (48-19) now have a three-game advantage over Boston in the loss column. The Philadelphia 76ers (45-22) now tie the C's in the loss column and are breathing down their necks for the No. 2 seed.
The road only gets tougher for the Celtics from here on out. They have four games left on their current trip and while there are winnable games ahead (Timberwolves, Trail Blazers, Jazz), they have to stop playing to the level of their competition. Otherwise, they'll fall to the No. 3 seed before they know it.