If you were to pick two NBA teams that were well equipped to match Houston's micro-ball lineups, it would be the Celtics and the Clippers. With Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, and Gordon Hayward in-hand, the Celtics are built to play Houston's style of play as well, if not better than them. However, tonight Boston never adjusted defensively to match with Houston and it cost them.
"They're trying to force the ball in places where they think they have an advantage," said Mike D'Antoni after the game. "And when you start doing that, if we're active and if we have hands, it makes it easier jumping out in the passing lanes."
D'Antoni is referencing the first quarter where Boston had a few possessions posting up Enes Kanter on P.J. Tucker to no success. Not only did it get the Celtics out of their traditional offense, it tempted them, besides their better judgement, to take an inefficient shot against a really strong post-defender in Tucker.
"I thought they forced us into being stagnant offensively with their physicality, with their switches, and that hurt us," said Brad Stevens. "Then [James] Harden was great in that stretch and [Russell] Westbrook was great. Those guys are two of the best in the world and they showed it again tonight."
Harden and Westbrook combined for 48 points on 22 of 42 shooting from the field, and 27 for 31 from the free throw line.
"Well I think [small ball] helps both of them," said D'Antoni. "I mean, it should. It opens the floor up for them. Both of them are great drivers and finishers, especially Russell [Westbrook]. That's his game."
Star of the game: After a relatively quiet first half (11 points, 3-6 from the field), James Harden absolutely exploded in the third quarter, scoring 19 points on 4 of 7 shooting from the field and 3 of 6 shooting from three-point range. Not only was Harden finally making his threes after an extended cold streak, the Celtics could not keep him off the free throw line (17 of 18). Harden finished with 42 points, 8 rebounds, and 7 assists on 67.9% true shooting.
Honorable mention: Russell Westbrook continued his excellent stretch tallying 36 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists, and 2 steals on 13 of 23 shooting from the field and 10 of 13 from the free throw line. His scoring become particularly useful down the stretch when Harden was laboring with some sort of lower leg. Westbrook scored 13 points, 4 assists, and 2 rebounds on 5 of 7 shooting from the field in the 4th quarter.
Key moment: Houston's best quarter was definitely the 3rd quarter where they outscored Celtics 31 to 22. They earned that discrepancy when Rockets opened the third quarter with a 10-1 run. Their defensive communication on their switches were fantastic, Harden and Westbrook were taking advantage of the spaced floor on offense, and they looked their best as a unit since the Robert Covington trade.
Up next: The Rockets travel to Golden State to play the Warriors at 9:30 p.m. on Thursday.
With a new season on the horizon, the Astros have high hopes for 2024 after coming just one game shy of being in the World Series for three consecutive seasons.
If Houston wants to get back to the Fall Classic in 2024, they're going to have to rely on their pitching. Owner Jim Crane believes the club has 8 starting pitchers when Luis Garcia and Lance McCullers Jr. return mid-season.
Which allows several of the starters to move to the bullpen and provide even more depth. Add those guys to Bryan Abreu, Ryan Pressly, and Josh Hader and you have a recipe for success.
Check out the video above as ESPN Houston's Jeremy Branham goes through the entire staff and makes his case for the Astros having the best pitching staff in baseball.
You can listen to The Killer B's with Jeremy Branham and Joel Blank every weekday on ESPN 97.5 & 92.5 from 3 pm - 6 pm!