Russell Westbrook rumors to the Boston Celtics

Marcus Smart explains why Celtics were in a foul mood following loss to Rockets

Marcus Smart explains why Celtics were in a foul mood following loss to Rockets

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.

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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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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.