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Game Day: Rockets vs Celtics

Analysis and observations from Houston's 109-85 win over Boston Tuesday night

HOUSTON - Analysis and observations from before, during and after Houston’s Tuesday night matchup with the Boston Celtics:

Post-game:

Welcome to Toyota Center. Abandon all hope, ye who enter the paint.

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OK, so maybe it’s a wee bit too early to start comparing the Rockets’ rim protection to the hell depicted in Dante’s Divine Comedy but Houston has been putting up some pretty prodigious block numbers since inserting Terrence Jones into the squad’s starting lineup and the team wasted no time keeping the block party going Tuesday night with the Celtics in town. So perhaps for the time being we can take to calling it the Rockets’ very own swat soirée or something to that effect – you know, since we’re doing the whole highbrow thing by referencing Mr. Alighieri in the first place.

Whatever nomenclature you wish to use, however, the end result was the Rockets’ most resounding and emphatic victory to date. That full-48 minute performance coaches, players and fans have been clamoring for – Houston delivered the goods tonight. Chandler Parsons rejected Boston’s first shot of the game effectively setting the tone for an opening quarter that would see the Rockets swat seven shots in all on their way to racing out to an 18-1 edge that would eventually balloon to 40-18 by the time the first quarter carnage had come to an end.  

To the surprise of no one who’s been paying attention the past nine-plus years, Dwight Howard was prominently involved in Houston’s early defensive dominance, utilizing his Asgardian physique to full effect while personally sending back three Boston shots during the Rockets’ first quarter blitzkrieg. Not to be overlooked, however – and really, who could possibly have overlooked him on this night? – was Terrence Jones who spent a healthy chunk of the evening looking like some sort of lethal, ought-to-be-illegal weapon combining the basketball characteristics of Howard, Kevin Love and, wait for it, Christian Laettner (remember this?). By the 3:39 mark of the second quarter, Jones had set his career-high for scoring – he’d finish with 24 points on the night – and come halftime he’d gone 8-of-8 from the field, racked up six rebounds and a block, and tossed a lovely, Love-esque outlet pass to Omri Casspi for a layup.

Jones’ numbers and highlights were eye-popping, but so too were the small, subtle aspects of his performance which might have flown below the radar of most onlookers, but will most definitely be appreciated by the coaching staff that’s gaining more trust in him by the minute. Jones made a handful of smart, clever, well-timed cuts and on several occasions Chandler Parsons rewarded him with some savvy playmaking of his own.

This was dominance, plain and simple, by both Jones and the rest of his Rockets teammates. There's taking care of business against less than stellar competition and then there's straight up dismantling them. The Rockets opted for the latter right from the opening tip and the evidence was everywhere. It could be found in the fact that all of Houston’s starters reached double figure scoring for a second straight game. It was there in the club’s 10 blocked shots (the Rockets have averaged 10 blocks per game since Jones joined the starting lineup). It could be seen in Houston’s 72 percent shooting during its scintillating first half. And, oh yeah, it most certainly evident in the 109-85 final score.

For Houston, it was a night to remember. For the Celtics, well, it probably felt a lot like the hoops version of hell.

Some final numbers and observations:

- More Rockets’ dominance: Houston owned a 60-30 edge in paint points and a 23-7 advantage in fast break points.

- The Rockets 40 first quarter points were the most they had scored in an opening period since they dropped 41 on the Miami Heat on February 21, 2008.

- In his four games as a starter, Terrence Jones is now averaging 13 points, 10 rebounds and 2 blocks per game while shooting 55 percent from the field.

- Houston’s 10th blocked shot of the night was its most aesthetically pleasing. Donatas Motiejunas showed some serious hustle while racing back to swat Kelly Olynyk’s fast break layup from behind.

- Omer Asik returned to game action for the first time since last week’s game against Philadelphia. He entered the contest in the fourth quarter and finished with 4 points and 4 rebounds in 7 minutes of action.

- About the only demerits detracting from Houston’s near perfect performance tonight: The Rockets turned the ball over 20 times and allowed Boston to corral 18 offensive rebounds (27 percent offensive rebound rate) – that won’t go over well with the coaches who have been hammering home the need to take care of the defensive glass, especially given the fact the Celtics came into tonight’s contests as one of the league’s weaker rebounding clubs.

Next up for Houston: a date with the Mavericks in Dallas tomorrow night. No doubt tonight’s relatively relaxing win will welcome heading into the second night of a back-to-back.

QUOTES

HOUSTON ROCKETS COACH KEVIN McHALE

(On team’s play) “I think TJ (Terrence Jones) and Dwight (Howard) were really running tonight. They got down and collapsed the defense early. They opened up lanes for other people to drive. They (Boston) had a lot of mismatches with their defense because they (Terrence Jones and Dwight Howard) were out running their guys and guards had to pick them up. It created a lot more scramble opportunities for us to play off of breaks. TJ had been playing very, very well. Dwight had an ultra effective, efficient night tonight. He blocked everything early and got us off to a great start.”

(On defensive play) “If we can shore up our defensive rebounding...it's something we've got to do. We're getting the miss on the first shot, then we get out and run and that's when we're at out best when were out running and pushing. The more stops you get, the more opportunities you get to push. I thought we got our hands on a lot of balls and got a lot of steals. We had a lot of deflections and blocked shots around the rim. We had a lot of activity on the defensive end and that activity on the defensive end turns into offense for us.”

(On the team catching rhythm) “Hopefully we're starting (to catch rhythm), it's a process. I thought the last couple of days were good for us to have a home game, to have a rest day where everybody just kind of got away, have a good practice, have a good shoot around and you can just feel that we were building some rhythm. We really had a hectic schedule. A lot of the corrections we've been making have been corrections on the fly. I think the guys have done a really good job of being attentive and making corrections. We've still got a long way to go, but we're getting better all the time. That's the encouraging thing. We have a lot of room for improvement still, but I can feel us starting to gel a little bit.”

(On Terrence Jones' development) “I think he's playing really well. I think he's played really well every chance he's gotten. He's really been big rebounding for us. He's been running well for us. He's got really good hands, he catches and finishes around the basket. He can dribble-handoff. He can play make. He can do some stuff on the perimeter that keeps the defense more stretched. Terrence has done a lot of good things for us. He's just going to get better. He's a nice kid; he's a nice young man. He's a good basketball player. He's just going to continue to improve.”

PAT BEVERLEY

(On the tempo of the game) “I had to pick up the pace. I'm in the game throwing the ball up getting Chandler (Parsons) and James (Harden) easy points. We've been doing that and defending also. We've been able to get out and get good stops early. Knock on wood that that doesn't change.”

(On the team's defensive effort) “We're just making multiple efforts. It's still early. We're still trying to feel each other out. You see us out there, we're making multiple efforts. That's what it takes to win basketball games. We're starting to do that now.”

(On Terrence Jones play) “T-Jones (Terrence Jones) is being T-Jones. He has always stayed ready. Me coming from where he's coming from, being in a position of not playing like I was in last year. I keep telling him to stay at it. He's done a great job, worked on his body and got stronger. Even though he wasn't playing, he kept working hard and his hard work is paying off now. He's playing phenomenal for us bringing that energy, that spark, that toughness and defensive pressure, how he can impact the ball, he has rebounds. He's doing a great job, so (his playing time) it's well deserved.”

TERRENCE JONES

(On his play tonight) “I tried to play through the flow of the game. My teammates got me a lot of easy shots through cuts, offensive rebounds and running hard. I think we started off really well in the first quarter.”

(On his preparation) “I've just been trying to work hard and get ready for the opportunity come to me. Coach has really taught me how to be a pro and just approach everyday to work hard and get better. That's just what I try to do and it just pays off when my opportunities come.”

DWIGHT HOWARD

(On the key to the Rockets getting off to a very good start) “I think it's our defense. Terrence and myself tried to do a better job of protecting the paint and forcing teams to only get one shot. Once we do that, our young guys can get out and run. They did a good job of that tonight, of getting out and running early. We set the tone. That's what we have to do. Tonight, the difference is we did it for four quarters and that's why we got the big win.”

(On the play of Terrence Jones) “Terrence (Jones) has been playing great. I think I told you guys at the beginning of the year he is one of the guys that I really like. I think he is going to have a great year. You can see just by the couple of games that he has played, he has been playing great. He works hard everyday and that's what we need, out young guys to come in and play like that.”

JEREMY LIN

(On the importance of the Rockets not letting up after building a lead) “I think that's something that we have been talking about, building on leads, keeping the pressure up and not dropping our level of play just because the scoreboard is whatever it is. I thought we did a great job of keeping the intensity. I thought this was our second or third game in a row where the ball really moved effortlessly. We found guys. Anytime when you have a lot of guys scoring across the board, it's usually a good night offensively. I thought Terrence and Dwight did a great job of protecting the rim.”

(On Terrence Jones being in the lineup) “He gives us a little more space. I think he has a great knack for cutting and finding the rim and being in the right place at the right time. He can shoot the floater, he can finish at the rim, he can stretch you out, I think he hit a three tonight. He's very versatile.”

BOSTON CELTICS COACH BRAD STEVENS

(On the game) “I really didn’t have many thoughts on the game. I don’t have anything I’m excited about from today’s game. I want to make sure we don’t play like that again, so I never look at is as it was just one of those things because there is something behind when you don’t play the way you’re supposed to. There are games where things just don’t go your way, but we’re letting one end affect the other and you don’t do that on good teams.”

(On the Rockets) “They played really inspired and really well tonight. I was very impressed. Terrence Jones was terrific at the four spot and if you come into a game and you think about who all they have on their roster and you think about that kind of production at the four and the one, they are going to be a hard team to beat. I like the way they played. I think (Pat) Beverly gives them a nice defensive balance and a toughness and assertiveness on the ball and (Chandler) Parsons is a very savvy, good basketball player. You saw late clock a couple of times and he faked us and drove inside and got an easy basket. (Dwight) Howard is Howard and (James) Harden is Harden and everybody else is good too. That’s just a good team.”

COURTNEY LEE

(On his team’s slow start) “That’s the best way to describe it, it was a slow start. We went making shots and were not executing our offense and Houston got out and were running and were making easy layups and everything they were running was working against us. It was definitely a bad start for us. It was frustrating because our buckets were not falling and it seemed liked all of theirs was going in. They were getting a lot of layups. We have to be able to go out and compete for the entire 48 minutes. I was just trying to go out there and compete and we were already down by a large margin, but I could only go out and try and fight and try and get us back.”

(On the Rockets) “They looked a lot better than the last time I watched them on League Pass. It was one of those nights where they had all their shots going down and they were executing and they were able to get what they wanted to get and do what they wanted to do tonight.”

AVERY BRADLEY

(On the game) “I just feel like we gave a lot of effort tonight. We just have to play better on defense. It was disappointing more than anything. I don’t want to say we were surprised because it’s a team effort and me personally, I was surprised but disappointed because I know we can play better than that. It was all about effort and I feel like everybody can control their individual effort and I don’t feel, like we gave effort tonight. I really wouldn’t say we folded (in third quarter) but we have to come with a better start and I still felt we had a chance at halftime. A 20-point lead is nothing in the NBA. We just didn’t play good defense. I think early in the game we let our offense be controlled by our defensive play. We weren’t able to get stops and you’re going to lose games when you play like that and let your offense dictate your defensive play.”

(On the Rockets) “They are a very good team and have a lot of good players and they played very well tonight.”

RAJON RONDO

(On Terrence Jones’ career high) “He played extremely well and played with a lot of confidence out there, and he stuck to what he does best. He got out in transition and got some easy looks and got some rebounds and played really hard for his team. We’re always very proud of our Kentucky players around the league.”

NOTES

Houston registered another sellout crowd of 18,232 (largest attendance of season), marking a seventh straight sellout at Toyota Center.

The Rockets opened the game on an 18-1 run and never surrendered the lead in a 109-85 triumph over the Celtics tonight. Houston also did not trail in 122-111 win vs. Denver (11/16/13). The Rockets have not trailed since the 7:41 mark (-1, 60-61) of the third quarter at New York (11/14/13).

Houston swatted away another 10 opponent shots tonight. The Rockets are now averaging 10.8 blocks per game over the last five outings (54 total from 11/11/13-11/19/13).

The Rockets connected on 41-of-72 (.569) from the field tonight, while holding the Celtics to just 32-of-99 (.323) from the floor. It marked the fifth time already this season that Houston has held its opponent under .400 shooting (Rockets record: 4-1).

Houston outscored Boston by a 60-30 (+30) count in the paint and took a 23-7 (+16) edge off the break, setting opponent highs in each category against the Celtics this season. Boston did take a 24-5 (+19) advantage in second-chance points, which marked its largest such margin this season.

The Rockets registered a season-high 68 first-half points on 26-of-36 (.722) shooting, including a 40-point (.800, 16-20 FG) first quarter. It marked Houston’s most first-quarter points since 41 vs. Miami (2/21/08). Under the direction of Kevin McHale, the Rockets now hold an overall record of 19-6 when scoring at least 60 points in the opening half.

All five Rockets starters have reached double-digit scoring in each of the last two games.

Terrence Jones set a new career high in points in the first half alone, notching 17 points (8-8 FG), six rebounds and one block over the opening two quarters. His previous best in points was 14 done twice (4/3/13 at Sacramento and 11/16/13 vs. Denver). Overall, Jones had a game-high 24 points (.833, 10-12 FG), nine rebounds and two blocks tonight.

Pat Beverley recorded 16 points (6-8 FG, 2-3 3FG, 2-2 FT) and four rebounds tonight. Beverley totaled a career-high 19 points (6-13 FG, 3-8 3FG, 4-4 FT) earlier this season vs. the L.A. Clippers (11/9/13).

Chandler Parsons, who recorded 20 or more points in four of his previous five games, had 11 points (4-8 FG) and a game-high six assists tonight.

Dwight Howard posted 10 points (3-4 FG), a game-high 11 rebounds and three blocks tonight, which marked his seventh double-double already this season.

Courtney Lee came off the bench with a team-high 17 points (7-16 FG, 3-4 3FG) tonight. Lee joined the Celtics last season in a sign-and-trade from the Rockets.

Avery Bradley had 11 points on 5-of-22 shooting tonight. He came into this game off a season-high 27 points (12-23 FG) at Minnesota (11/16/13).

Jared Sullinger, who came off the bench with 14 points (7-8 FG) and a team-high 11 boards last season against the Rockets at Boston (1/11/13), had 10 points (4-10 FG) and nine rebounds tonight. 

PREVIEW: 

The Basics:

Boston Celtics (4-7) at Houston Rockets (7-4)

Offensive Rating (points per 100 possessions):

Boston: 97.3 (26th)

Houston: 106.0 (5th)

Defensive Rating (points allowed per 100 possessions):

Boston: 101.3 (12th)

Houston: 101.6 (13th)

Point Differential:

Boston: -3.5 (20th)

Houston: +2.5 (12th)

Pace (number of possessions per 48 minutes):

Boston: 96.6 (15th)

Houston: 100.75 (5th)

Four Factors:

Shooting – Effective field goal percentage (eFG% is a field goal percentage that’s adjusted for made 3-pointers being 1.5 times more valuable than a 2-point shot):

Boston: 48.5% (NBA rank: 17th)

Houston: 52.5% (NBA rank: 5th)

Turnovers – Turnover ratio (the number of turnovers a team averages per 100 possessions):

Boston: 17.9 (25th)

Houston: 18.7 (29th)

Rebounding – Rebound percentage (the percentage of total rebounds obtained)

Boston: 48.3% (25th); offensive rebound rate: 25.1% (16th); defensive rebound rate: 70.4% (30th)

Houston: 53.3% (1st); offensive rebound rate: 29.2% (5th); defensive rebound rate: 72.1% (26th)

Free Throws – Free throw rate (the rate at which a team goes to the line relative to the number of field goals it attempts):

Boston: .255 (21st)

Houston: .497 (1st)

In sum, no matter which way you slice it, the Rockets own a rather resounding edge in tonight’s matchup; hardly a surprise given the Celtics’ rebuilding efforts that began in earnest this offseason. Without a true go-to guy on offense, the Celtics occasionally succumb to stretches during which they struggle to score, and Houston’s size and dynamism inside should deliver a host of opportunities on the offensive glass.

Boston has been very streaky to start the season, dropping its first four games before rattling off four straight wins, only to slip once more as the Celtics enter tonight’s contest currently riding a three-game losing skid. Of Boston’s four wins, only one has come against a club sporting a record that resides on the happy side of .500. That one victory, however, came on the road against the Miami Heat, offering just the latest bit of proof that there is no such thing as a gimme in the NBA.

Know Thy Enemy

- The Celtics concede the third-most shots per game from the restricted area of any team in the league – a ranking that’s not likely to improve tonight given the fact Houston attempts more shots from that area than all but three teams. Boston is top-10 in the NBA, however, in terms of the field goal percentage they allow on such shots, and is also top-10 in blocks per game (the Rockets rank third in that category, by the way). Brazilian rookie Vitor Faverani leads the Celtics with an average of 1.6 blocks per game compiled in just a little more than 19 minutes of playing time per contest.

- As one might expect of a team boasting a rookie head coach and no shortage of youth, Boston currently possesses a paucity of high-usage lineups as Brad Stevens chooses instead to mix, match and tinker in search of the best combinations for his new squad. The best of the bunch so far just so happens to be the starting five Boston trotted out during its last game: The quintet of Jordan Crawford, Avery Bradley, Jeff Green, Brandon Bass and Faverani has played 39 minutes together thus far and is +13 during the time. That unit has been particularly effective on the defensive end where they’ve conceded a mere 82 points per 100 possessions.

- Speaking of the C’s ability to defend, Boston is comfortably ranked in the league’s top-10 in terms of its ability to curtail its opposition in spot-ups, transition and pick-and-rolls according to Synergy Sports. Given the fact the Rockets love to push the pace, play drive-and-kick, and are as good as it gets when it comes to scoring via the screen-and-roll, tonight’s contest possesses the potential to be a beguiling battle of skill, strategy and wits in that regard.  

- The Celtics are 25th in the NBA in terms of corner 3s taken per game, but Houston fans will no doubt recall that Courtney Lee is not to ever be left alone in that particularly valuable real estate. The former Rocket drained nearly half of his corner 3s during his final year in Houston and he connected on 44 percent of his shots from that location a season ago. True to form, he’s 4-of-8 on corner treys to begin the 2013-14 campaign.

In the spotlight

Since becoming a starter, Terrence Jones is averaging 10 points and more than 10 rebound per game while chipping in a pair of blocks per contest for good measure. His plus/minus during that three-game stretch: a team-leading +29. During the 102 minutes Jones has been on the floor since becoming a starter, Houston’s offensive rating is a ridiculous 117.2 – a mark that would lead the league by leaps and bounds (the accompanying 104.4 defensive rating is less gaudy, however – it would represent a bottom-10 mark). Yes, all the usual caveats (microscopic sample size, caliber of competition, etc.) apply, but the 21-year-old only figures to improve as he continues to accrue experience; a scary proposition for the opposition given the sort of production he’s already hinted at delivering.

All stats courtesy of NBA.com except where otherwise noted.