2/11 Game Preview: Celtics at Rockets
The Boston Celtics had already initiated the process of showcasing the breadth of their potential, flashing their might even while hamstrung by injuries over the past several weeks.
On Sunday against the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Celtics' rotation was fully intact, and the results were, as expected, favorable.
Boston extended its winning streak to seven games with a 112-111 win over the Thunder, and now the Celtics will seek their 11th victory in 12 games on Tuesday against the host Houston Rockets.
Fully armed for the first time this month, the Celtics had all five starters score in double figures. Jaylen Brown and Daniel Theis entered questionable due to ankle injuries, but Brown scored 17 points in 34 minutes while Theis contributed a double-double (13 points and 11 rebounds).
"We have a lot of weapons and a lot of guys that can do a lot of different things," said Celtics forward Gordon Hayward, who also posted a double-double (13 points, 10 boards). "If everyone makes the right play and trusts everybody, we have such good players that good things will happen."
That appears to be more a statement of fact than subjective opinion. The Celtics entered Monday fifth in the NBA in offensive rating (112.7 points per 100 possessions), third in defensive rating (105.5) and second to the Milwaukee Bucks in net rating (plus-7.2).
Boston ranks in the top 10 in turnover rate and true shooting percentage, reflections of its offensive efficiency. The defense remains one of the most stifling in the NBA, and that two-way prowess has the Celtics rolling as the unofficial midpoint of the schedule comes into focus on the horizon.
The Rockets aren't quite as hot, although their recent play is cause for optimism.
Houston lost at the buzzer at home on Sunday, with Jazz forward Bojan Bogdanovic sinking a 28-foot 3-pointer over James Harden and P.J. Tucker to lift Utah to a 114-113 comeback victory.
Despite shooting poorly from the perimeter over the final three periods -- the Rockets made 10 of 33 3-point attempts after a blistering start -- and again surrendering a double-digit advantage on the glass (minus-12), the Rockets performed ably on offense in the waning moments. Robert Covington and Tucker hit clutch 3-pointers, the latter providing Houston a lead with 1.6 seconds left.
By playing small ball and spreading the floor, the Rockets appear to have optimized their shot selection. Their relative lack of success from behind the arc against the Jazz was no deterrent.
"I think we get the shots that we want taken," Rockets guard Russell Westbrook said. "Open shots, open looks. Depends on what kind of defense you see every night, so we're just trying to read and see what's going on."
Given their recent commitment to a more exaggerated style of play, the Rockets expect growing pains along the way, and not specifically to the integration of the newly acquired Covington. There will be moments of hesitation and trepidation as the Rockets settle in, but the results thus far have been positive.
"I'm really encouraged by what we're doing and how we can be," Houston coach Mike D'Antoni said.