C’s Excited to Test Themselves vs. Houston’s Two-Headed Monster

HOUSTON – The Boston Celtics are set to face one of their biggest defensive challenges of the season Tuesday night, when they take on the Houston Rockets’ newly-formed two-headed monster of James Harden and Russell Westbrook.

Combined, the backcourt mates are averaging 62.5 points, 14.6 assists and 14.5 rebounds per game, which makes them by far the most potent offensive tandem in the NBA.

“Their aggressiveness, their mentality – they’re going to keep coming at you,” Jaylen Brown told Celtics.com ahead of Tuesday morning’s shootaround at Toyota Center. “You’ve got to be consistent, stable and you’ve got to be disciplined against them.”

Of the two superstars, Harden is the one who tends to garner most of the attention. And with good reason, considering that he’s in line to capture his third consecutive NBA scoring title. But it’s far from easy coming up with a strategy to defend such a well-rounded offensive weapon as Harden, especially when he’s got a player of Westbrook’s caliber by his side.

“It's a tough one because a lot of teams have gone to full-out doubling him every time, run and jump and don't let him get his rhythm,” Celtics coach Stevens said when asked about the defensive strategy against Harden. “But then he gets out in transition and is even more aggressive because he knows that's the time he is matched up one-on-one. And it's really opened up the court for a lot of other guys and those other guys are playing well.

“They've got a lot of shooting, and then Westbrook, he's averaging 27 (points) a game. When people talk about Houston, they always talk about Harden, rightfully so. He's special. But Westbrook's a former MVP and you just overhelp and you let him get a head of steam or you let him get cuts or run-ins or run through it on the drive, it's really tough. So I think you've gotta balance the doubling with guarding (Harden) appropriately. We'll have a number of guys that have a number of chances to guard him on different possessions.”

Marcus Smart, per usual, plans to be one of the Celtics who takes on such a challenge.

“You just have make everything he takes hard,” Smart said of defending Harden. “Make him work for it. Don’t let him get comfortable. Everything that he takes, shots outside to inside, make them as tough as possible without trying to foul.”

Defending Westbrook is just as difficult. The 6-foot-3 point guard is coming off of back-to-back masterpieces against two defensively gifted teams in the Lakers and Jazz, against whom he put up 41 points and 39 points respectively. What makes Westbrook unique is his elite slashing ability, as he is leading the league with 20.3 drives per game while shooting 58.2 percent on such plays.

“He’s one of the most explosive players to ever play basketball – to play any sport,” Stevens claimed. “He can get to the rim no matter who’s guarding him. He’s just hard to guard. I know that the Lakers mixed their bigs up on him, Rudy (Gobert) guarded him some yesterday – not the whole time, but some. He’s just hard to keep in front. And Harden draws so much attention, that when you are scrambling out, and then you’ve got to guard a guy that’s a jet engine flying into the paint, it’s just hard.”

With that being said, the Celtics can’t wait to see how their third-ranked defense stacks up against Houston’s two-headed monster.

“As a competitor, when you love to compete, you love challenges like this because it only helps you, in the long run, get better,” said Smart. “It’ll be a fun game, a good game. Everybody’s going to come out and play hard.”

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