HOUSTON -- There was no mistaking the anger Marcus Smart felt following the Boston Celtics' 116-105 loss to the Houston Rockets on Tuesday night.
It wasn’t so much that Boston’s seven-game winning streak had come to an end or the fact that the Celtics (37-16) were handed their first road loss in their past four games away from TD Garden.
Smart, along with a few of his teammates, was in a foul mood in part because of the lopsided nature of the fouls that were called.
While the number of total fouls called was close (26 against Boston, 21 against Houston), the difference in free-throw attempts was much, much greater.
Houston’s James Harden and Russell Westbrook, who consistently rank among the NBA’s leaders in free-throw attempts, combined to attempt 31 against Boston.
The Celtics team took a total of 25.
While there were certainly some calls that went against Boston that could have easily been in the Celtics' favor, the real difference in this game was the level of physicality the Rockets (34-20) brought to the game that the C's simply did not match.
Smart acknowledged this was, in fact, one of the few games this season that the Celtics failed to elevate or exceed their opponent's level of physical play.
“It’s just hard for us, the way the game is being called,” Smart said. “We didn’t know how physical we could be. When we were being physical, we were getting [fouls called]. So, it kind of made us hesitant, put us on our heels. Anytime you’re fearful of fouling, this is what happens.
Smart added, “But we’ll get better at it. They did a good job of being physical and really owning that game and taking it to us.”
It was pointed out to Smart that the free-throw discrepancy was 17 in favor of the Rockets.
“I don’t think I need to say anything on that,” Smart said. “It’s a big discrepancy.”
But that isn’t all that unusual for Rockets' opponents this season.
With Harden leading the way, Houston has ranked among the NBA’s top teams when it comes to free-throw attempts.
The addition of Westbrook has allowed the Rockets’ free-throw attempt numbers to be even better.
Houston came into the game averaging a league-best 26.2 free throws attempted per game while opponents average 22.8 attempts, which ranks 16th in the league.
And while the free throws and physicality were certainly major contributors in Boston’s loss, the bottom line when all was said and done was clear.
Houston, on this night, was the better team.
“You know, they outplayed us,” said Celtics coach Brad Stevens. “They were really good, made a bunch of tough shots, they’re two best players were awesome.
Stevens added, “I thought our guys battled. We just need to be better.”
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