Boston, MA — Russell Westbrook recorded 41 points, eight boards and five assist, to help the Houston Rockets come back from 17 down and defeat the Boston Celtics in an overtime classic, 111-110.
This game felt like an NBA Finals preview. A high-octane, super duty and supreme effort chess match that truly came down to the final buzzer. This tale of two halves ballgame was nothing short of physical and both teams gave the other their best shot.
However, it would be the Rockets (38-20), who are making the analytics purists seem really smart, edging out the one point win and improving to 10-2 since going with their small ball style of play.
In the first half, the battle of toughness would be won by the Celtics (41-17). Boston did an outstanding job opening up the game by clogging the lane and making it hard for Westbrook and James Harden to slash into the paint and get easy buckets. Every time that the Rockets duo would make an attempt to get to the basket, you’d see two, even three defenders crash inside to make things difficult.
This was the right idea because those are two players are the types to get themselves started early and then feed their teammates. If you look at that first half, Houston’s star guards combined for 32 points. The others… combined for 13.
This is due to your two dribble heavy all-stars having the rock for extended periods, however, it was also because their teammates couldn’t hit open threes to bring down the swelling on the fact that their franchise players were getting hounded inside by a top-five defensive team in all the NBA.
Things were frustrating for the two opening up the game. In addition, resulted in the team scoring their lowest point total in a half this season, 45 points on 18-for-45 shooting.
On the opposing end for the C’s in that opening half, when they got the ball on offense, they did a fabulous job getting to the rack themselves in their 1-on-1 situations and converting on baskets 15-feet and in. They’d shoot an efficient 47 percent from the field to start the half and cashed in on seven threes.
The team also had four players in double figures in that first half and enjoyed a 58-45 lead going into the locker room. Marcus Smart would lead all scorers in that first half with 16 points and was also the catalyst on the defensive end with four steals.
Yet, the second half would belong to the Rockets. In addition, the third quarter really told the tale for Houston in the contest as they were on fire from downtown getting contributions from Danuel House, Robert Covington and P.J. Tucker. The Rockets nailed seven three pointers in the quarter after only notching six in the entire first half.
Additionally, all of a sudden the team that was ice cold turned hot and Boston, who was the hot team to begin the game, turned cold. You could see once Houston got into a rhythm, they became more alert on defense and simply out hustled their opponents.
“We’re scrappy,” said Westbrook. “We got to be mean, we got to go get loose balls, we got to rebound we got to help each other out. I thought we did a good job of that tonight.”
Houston shot 61 percent from the field in the period and would erase what was once a 17-point deficit and find themselves leading 81-78 with one frame to go.
The fourth would be an exciting one. You believed that a Westbrook outback slam would be the icing on the cake for yet another epic night for the former MVP. However, sloppy play by Houston allowed the Celtics to sneak in the back door and cut into Houston’s lead within the final moments. Leaving the door open for Jaylen Brown to knock down a last-second bomb from downtown to tie the game at 104 all and send the game to overtime.
Although there would be five lead changes in the extra period, the Rockets would do enough to pull it out thanks to Brown’s mismanagement of the clock for the Celtics. In addition, Westbrook says the win really speaks to the grit of this team with them having to fight an extra five minutes.
“The measurement of a man is is where you stand in adversity,” he said. “I thought we did a good job as a unit coming out, competing and closing those last five minutes out.”
Despite the loss, Jayson Tatum had another strong game with 32-points, 13 rebounds, five assists, two steals and two turnovers.
The Rockets have now won their last five in a row against the Celtics and snap Boston’s seven-game home win streak. They’ll now face the Knicks in New York on March 2.
On the opposing end, the Celtics will go toe-to-toe with the Brooklyn Nets on March 3.