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HOUSTON – The Boston Celtics were in line to snag one of their most impressive wins of the season Monday night in Houston, after experiencing a 20-point, second-half swing in their favor.
A lack of focus and a bit of bad luck down the stretch, however, snuffed Boston’s brilliant effort as it was edged, 107-106, by a red-hot Rockets team.
Boston held a 96-88 lead with less than seven minutes remaining in the game, but it committed three costly turnovers during a two-minute and 36-second span that allowed Houston to spring back and grab a 102-100 lead.
“We had some confusion on a couple of play calls which was unacceptable that late in the game,” said Jae Crowder. “Three guys on the same page and two other guys doing something differently. We didn’t know exactly what we were doing.”
“That’s on us,” he added, “because all five guys on the court need to be on the same page. We weren’t, and that turned into turnovers and points on the other end.”
Despite the late lack of focus, the C’s still had a couple of chances to win during the closing moments.
The Rockets held a three-point lead and had possession of the ball with less than 20 seconds remaining, but James Harden committed a crucial flagrant foul as he struck Marcus Smart across the face with a flailing elbow.
Smart hit both of his free throws and Boston retained possession with 16.2 seconds left. However, Isaiah Thomas missed a potential go-ahead layup with seven seconds left, and then Al Horford missed the potential winning shot as his driving layup attempt rimmed out as time expired.
“We had our opportunities,” said Horford, who finished with a team-high 21 points, a game-best nine assists, as well as six rebounds and two blocks. “I missed a couple of shots that I normally make down the stretch – a mid-range jumper and a face-up in the post.
“I felt like we had our opportunities and I didn’t execute as well as I wanted to toward the end tonight, so I take the fall for that.”
It was an unfortunate collapse after Boston’s put forth a brilliant overall effort, especially during the third quarter when it went on a 19-2 run over a four-minute and 11-second span.
“I thought we did a lot of good things for sure,” said C’s coach Brad Stevens. “It’s a tough loss and a tough pill to swallow, but I think that there was more positive than not against a team that’s hot and playing really well.”
The C’s faced a 10-point deficit at halftime, but came out of the break with a burst of intensity and outscored Houston 35-19 during the third frame.
At that point, Boston was spreading the rock as well as it has at any point this season; all five of its starters scored six-or-more points during the third quarter.
And the team’s defensive tenacity was exceptional, as it held the second-highest-scoring team in the league to less than 20 points during the same frame.
“We came out with a little more energy and a little more pep to our step,” Crowder said of Boston’s second-half surge. “We jumped on them early on both ends of the court. We just had a little more stuff about us. But we gotta play like that the whole game.”
The Celtics were certainly frustrated by their late-game miscues, but they won’t let Monday’s loss resonate with them. Instead, they’ll leave it in the rear view as they set their eyes on the final opponent of their three-game road trip.
“The good thing about the NBA is that Wednesday we have an opportunity to go into Orlando and compete against a good team over there,” said Horford. “So [this loss] is tough, but I’m sure we will be better from this.”