THE FACTS: The Boston Celtics were not worried about Houston Rockets reserve center Greg Smith as an offensive threat. But by the time Smith terrorized Boston's defense enough to gain its respect, James Harden was in position to land the knockout punch.
Harden scored 21 points, dished out five assists and grabbed five rebounds, while Smith added 20 points on 8-for-9 shooting, six boards and three blocks as the Rockets put together a late-game spurt to pull away from the Boston Celtics 101-89 on Friday at Toyota Center. Chandler Parsons posted a near triple-double of 15 points, nine rebounds and a career-high eight assists for Houston (11-11), which has won two games in a row overall and eight of its last 10 home contests.
Paul Pierce paced the Celtics (12-10), who have lost five of their last six road games, with 18 points but needed 18 field goal attempts to arrive there. Rajon Rondo chipped in with 15 points and 13 assists to go with his season-high seven turnovers.
QUOTABLE: "I was in the right spots at the right time. ... [The Celtics] are harsh on ball-handlers. They're going to show hard, and then the slip [to the basket] is right there. You roll, and of course, the rim is going to be open every time."
-- Greg Smith on how the Rockets' game plan led to his impressive performance
BAD MOVE: Boston defended Smith as if he was not even on its scouting report, allowing the Rockets' backup center to sneak behind the defense repeatedly for easy lay-ins. In 21-plus minutes on the court, Smith broke free for seven layups.
THE STAT: The Celtics found little success when they tried to generate offense inside against Houston's front line, netting only 32 points in the paint. Boston, which was limited to less than 41 points in the paint for the seventh straight game, has been held to an average of 36.3 points in the paint over its last seven contests.
TURNING POINT: Boston cut its deficit to 88-83 with 5:05 left to play in the fourth quarter and appeared to have an opportunity to further close the gap when Rondo poked the ball away from Harden on Houston's next possession. Harden, however, gathered the ball and buried a desperate 3-point attempt from the top of the key just before the shot clock expired, igniting a 13-2 Rockets run to secure the victory.
QUOTABLE II: "That's the way we should play. ... We were strong with the ball and making the right reads and plays."
-- James Harden on his team's dominance in the final five minutes
HOT: Houston surged to the lead in the third quarter with hot shooting as it knocked down 11 of its 18 shot attempts (61.1 percent), including a 4-for-6 (66.7 percent) effort from 3-point range, during a 32-point period.
QUOTABLE III: "In the third quarter, I don't think we stopped them any time they came down the court. We needed to create some kind of defensive consistency, and we just weren't able to do that. In the second half, Houston got into a rhythm that was undeniable."
-- Celtics forward Kevin Garnett on his squad's defensive lapses
NOT: Pierce's ongoing struggle to find a consistent shooting touch this season continued Friday. Including his 5-for-18 performance against the Rockets, Pierce has connected on only 38.0 percent (49-for-129) of his field-goal attempts over his last eight outings.
GOOD MOVE: Boston has seen its defensive numbers improve of late thanks to an increase in ball pressure and trapping, methods which proved to be effective at times against Houston. The Celtics collected 10 steals in the first half and 15 for the evening, marking their second straight game with at least 15 thefts.
NOTABLE: Garnett, who was drafted by Houston coach Kevin McHale when he was the Minnesota Timberwolves' general manager, hugged McHale immediately after the final buzzer sounded. "Me and KG, we go way back. There will always be a special place in my heart for him," McHale said. ... Celtics coach Doc Rivers tweaked his starting lineup, replacing shooting guard Jason Terry with Courtney Lee. ... Smith has blocked at least three shots in three consecutive games. ... The Rockets have won a franchise-record 34 consecutive contests when limiting an opponent to less than 90 points, which stands as the longest active streak of its kind in the NBA. ... Houston improved to 8-1 this season against Eastern Conference competition. ... The Rockets have won four of their last five meetings with Boston. ... Houston is 26-4 in December home games since 2008. ... The Rockets registered a 25-11 advantage in fast-break points. ... The Celtics fell to 1-7 this season when they dish out fewer assists than their opponent.
UP NEXT: For the Celtics, Saturday @ San Antonio, Tuesday @ Chicago, Wednesday vs. Cleveland. For the Rockets, Sunday @ Toronto, Monday @ New York, Wednesday vs. Philadelphia.