Celtics brace for matchup vs. Harden, Rockets
Losing skids can wear on the nerves of even the most hardened, veteran teams, and Boston forward Marcus Morris was aware that the Celtics needed something positive to reverse the collective mood from four consecutive losses and the constant questioning of what's wrong.
"I just want to get a couple smiles out of them, and we'll be good," Morris said.
The Celtics were all smiles following their 107-96 home win over the Washington Wizards on Friday, their first victory since the All-Star Game break. On Sunday, Boston will host the Houston Rockets at TD Garden aiming to build positive momentum, something that has proven elusive since the Celtics won 10 of 11 games over a three-week stretch that started in mid-January.
Fittingly, the Celtics reversed their slide with defensive might down the stretch against Washington. Much of the talk attempting to identify the problems with Boston focuses on inconsistent offensive performances, but the Celtics are identified by their defense, and when they are committed and engaged on that end of the court, positive results typically follow.
"I was just happy to see that effort from everyone," Celtics center Al Horford said. "With guys diving on the floor, really getting after it. Terry (Rozier) and (Daniel) Theis brought some good energy early in the fourth, got some steals, got us going. And that's good to see."
The Rockets had to resist the urge to give in on Thursday after falling behind by 21 points to the Miami Heat while playing the second game of a back-to-back with a short-handed roster.
Houston opened the game without guards Eric Gordon (knee) and Iman Shumpert (calf), plus forward Kenneth Faried (hip), and lost forward P.J. Tucker to an ejection in the second half. The stage was set for the Rockets to submit, but in this season of twists and turns, they opted for resilience instead and rallied for a 121-118 win and are now a season-high 12 games over .500.
"We didn't make excuses. We didn't just shut it down," Rockets guard James Harden said. "Kenneth, Eric, Shump, guys were injured. Guess what? Gary (Clark), time to step up. Gerald (Green), you're going to play some more minutes. Guys are going to play more minutes than they're usually playing, and that's what it's about.
"That's the grind of this league, and you've got to be prepared for it."
The Rockets have responded to constant roster flux by repeatedly turning to Harden, who produced his seventh (and NBA record) 50-point, 10-assist game with 58 points and 10 assists in the victory. Harden leads the league with six 50-point games this season and remains a driving force behind the Rockets' playoff push and pursuit of a favorable seed in the West.
The aforementioned grind can render some games meaningless, but Houston recognized the danger of letting go against Miami. The closing stretch is upon them, and the Rockets are striving to maintain their consistency even in the face of their longstanding injury adversity.
"We talked about it coming out in the fourth quarter," Rockets guard Chris Paul said. "This would be a big grind-out win for us. This is one of those games where it was ugly for us all game long and then we had to find a way. And James was unbelievable."
--Field Level Media
Updated March 3, 2019