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.
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.
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.