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Game Day Preview: Houston Rockets vs. Celtics, Mar. 11

By Tamberlyn Richardson
Nov 16, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets center Clint Capela (15) shoots against Boston Celtics forward Jae Crowder (99) and forward Amir Johnson (90) in the second half at Toyota Center. Celtics won 111 to 95. Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 16, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets center Clint Capela (15) shoots against Boston Celtics forward Jae Crowder (99) and forward Amir Johnson (90) in the second half at Toyota Center. Celtics won 111 to 95. Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports
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As the Houston Rockets continue their east road trip they look to end another lengthy home court win streak in Boston. The Game Day Preview breaks it down:

Sunday night the Houston Rockets ended Toronto’s 12 game home court win streak. Tonight they look to replicate that feat versus a Celtics team who haven’t lost at home since January 6th for a win streak of 14 and counting.  And although the Rockets lost to this squad on their home court in November this is not the same Celtics team – –  they are infinity better!

It’s funny how drastically different these two teams are in terms of what was expected pre season, what their future holds and how they’ve performed this season. At season start the Rockets returned having finished second in the brutal West having made it to the Western Conference Finals. Though they lost to the eventual champions it was thought with the core returning, some quality rookies and free agents added they would be competing atop the Conference. Conversely the Celtics were considered a team of solid players without any stars and were predicted to finish either outside the playoffs or at the bottom of the ladder.

The fact the team who’ll likely finish with home court in the first round is the Celtics only serves to showcase how impressive young head coach Brad Stevens is. It also points to  the deft handiwork of Danny Ainge whose added the exact right grouping of players to form the perfect chemistry. Even more impressive is this Boston team may also end up with the top draft pick given they own Brooklyn’s unprotected pick.

It’s a rare position to be in and only serves to underline the fact these Celtics won’t ever leave the upper echelon for very long. Unlike some markets considered “smaller” the Celtics are a franchise with a rich history of winning who can draw stars to their market.  Factoring in Brad Stevens is locked in for the long term and the copious draft picks Danny Ainge already has in hand plus the anticipated active summer coming  anything Boston accomplishes this season is purely gravy.

Game Day: Houston Rockets vs Boston Celtics

Houston enters tonight matching having won 2 of 3 so far on their east road trip with two huge games still to play. While the Raptor win ranks up there with the Spurs win on the season the next two teams can’t be taken for granted. If you saw the Raptors’ game vs the top ranked defense post All-Star last night (Atlanta Hawks) you’ll know how big the Rockets come back truly was. My point is they can’t afford to do that to Boston who don’t tend to give up their leads. And with Charlotte sitting in the wings waiting and attempting to climb over some teams to get a home seed (not to mention on their own 5 game win streak) Houston must be careful to continue their focused effort.

There’s a slight concern given we didn’t see solid defense versus Toronto until the second half and barely at all versus Philly. The Rockets need to produce a full 48 minutes of defensive effort, but more importantly they need to start stringing a series of games together that features them utilizing the same defensive habits. The sands of the hour glass have run out and there are no more chances left; it’s win now or possibly miss the post season. Further, it’s win now repeatedly or prepare for a quick exit in the first round!

With that I give you the break down of the Monday night game:

The Details

Venue:  TD Garden, Boston

Game Time: 7:30 PM EST – 6:30 PM CT

TV: ROOT in Houston and CSNHD in Boston

Radio: 790 AM in Houston, 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston

Recent History:

The Rockets swept both games versus the Celtics last season, but lost badly to Boston on their home court earlier this season:

November 16th: BOS 111 – 95 HOU

January 30th, 2015: HOU 93 – 87 BOS

November 1st, 2014: BOS 90 – 104 HOU

Walking Wounded:

Celtics:

  • Kelly Olynyk– shoulder, practiced with team Thursday without contact. Will be reevaluated prior to game time

Rockets:

  • Terrence Jones Add this current malaise to yet another odd injury of the many on his list. He’d been out with post concussion issues after the car accident he was in driving to catch the plan for Phoenix. Then he was out due to a respiratory illness. Now…. who knows?

Projected Starters:

Celtics: Isaiah ThomasAvery Bradley, Jae Crowder, Amir Johnson, Jared Sullinger

Rockets:Patrick Beverley, James HardenTrevor ArizaDonatas Motiejunas, Dwight Howard

Grading the Match-ups:

Point Guard – Isaiah Thomas vs Patrick Beverley:

This will be a battle of offense versus defense. A first time All-Star, Thomas has been the steady hand leading his squad to their top 3 seed.  Preseason no one anticipated the team could perform this well without a star, then Thomas showed why he is a star! Beverley has looked rough other than his last outing in Philly. He’ll have his hands full trying to stay in front of Thomas and he might be in for a shock by how improved Thomas’ defense is.

Edge: Isaiah Thomasno contest Thomas has this one in the bag, at least until Beverley showcases an ability to shut down someone like he used to and prove his offense isn’t something he’ll pull out once every 10 or so games.

Shooting Guard: Avery Bradley vs. James Harden

While Harden will offer plenty of work for Bradley, the bearded man can expect to be hounded all game…. kind of like what Patrick Beverley used to do to Rockets opponents! In fact I’d cite Bradley as one of the best guard defenders in the Association.

Edge: James Harden  – An easy choice, that said expect the Celtics to pressure the ball  (since it’s in Harden’s hands so much). The Celtics play solid defense so I anticipate the Celts will close down passing lanes and live with a Harden 40 or 50 point effort. They’ll rationalize letting Harden get his but stopping everyone else will be acceptable. That said, don’t count out Bradley who’ll accept the task of shutting down the beard.

Small Forward:  Jae Crowder  vs  Trevor Ariza

An interesting match-up with Crowder being the working man’s version of Kenneth Faried. He brings energy and defense to the floor and he battles offensively with a new 3-point shoot in his arsenal. He’s not a big offensive threat though. What may prove to be the most interesting question is who Ariza will be tasked with guarding. This Celtics squad succeeds on both ends of the court via what could truly only be described as the closest thing to a College type effort.  Players equally share the ball and defend as a unit. Without any true super stars (apologies to Thomas) any of their players on the court can score in double digits and the team literally moves the ball to whoever has the match-up advantage or has the hot hand.

Edge: Even

Power Forward: Amir Johnson vs Donatas Motiejunas

This is the match-up I’m most looking forward to. I keep waiting for D-Mo to break out offensively, but I wouldn’t put your money on it happening tonight at least when he’s matched up against Johnson.  I know of what I speak after watching every game Amir Johnson played for his six season in Toronto. The toughest of all the cuts this past season was Amir who was allowed to leave in order to sign 3 free agents in Toronto (Cory Joseph, Bismack Biyombo and Luis Scola were all signed for slightly more than Johnson signed in bean town).  That in itself may sound odd given Johnson only averages 7.1 points and 6 rebounds in 22 minutes per game.  Yet, it’s what Amir Johnson does that doesn’t register on the stat sheet that led to Danny Ainge signing him. And also of note, the Raptors biggest issues this season have been finding a starting power forward who can work with Valanciunas to compensate for JV’s defensive lapses and allow the offense to produce.

Long regarded in Toronto (and behind GM’s doors) as a stats darling Johnson may set the best screen in the business, is one of the absolute best help defenders in the NBA and literally will play when he can’t walk. Seriously! I’ve seen him limp into an arena barely able to put weight on his leg and then go on grab a key rebound or score the winning bucket. And that doesn’t begin to explain what he does behind closed doors. In fact with so much youth and previously unproven talent on this Celtics squad I’d go as far to bet the locker room leader is none other than Amir Johnson.

Toronto is notorious for booing returning players who abandoned the Raptors, but the fans arrived early, stayed late and gave Johnson a standing ovation upon his return to the ACC.  DeRozan said in 6 years he think he remembers Amir getting angry once.  And so as you watch tonight’s contest I encourage you to watch AJ when he’s on the floor. Look for his help defense, screens, block outs etc.

I predicted preseason Amir would be starting by Christmas…. it took all of 2 weeks for Brad Stevens to insert him as a starter.

Edge: Johnson  As much as I’d love to see D-Mo have a break out performance I have too much respect for Amir to not pay him his due by expecting him to win this match-up.

Center: Jared Sullinger vs. Dwight Howard

Of all the Celtics the production of Sullinger has at least for me been the most surprising. That said just look up one spot to Amir Johnson and you might have your answer.  I’d have to verify it, but it wouldn’t surprise me if Sully performs better with Johnson on the court due to Johnson creating space for him, setting great screens and most notably never needing to score.

Conversely, while Howard has been up and down he’s been more hit than miss of late and should be a major handful for Sully. In fact, I’d expect to see Amir Johnson shifted on whoever Stevens is most worried about on offense.

Edge: Dwight Howard

Reserves:

Celtics:  Evan TurnerTyler Zeller, Marcus Smart,

Rockets: Corey BrewerJason TerryK.J. McDaniels, Josh Smith,  Michael Beasley

Edge: Boston – Given how the Celtics play it’s impossible not to select the Celtics. Their team play is a testament to how a 5 man unit functions on both ends of the court. What Stevens is masterful at is getting his troops to bring 100% on both ends and subs each player in and out seamlessly only requesting they play team ball.  Meanwhile, the Rockets reserves feature more proven stars but coach Bickerstaff has been so inconsistent in how he utilizes them it could be said the Rockets are the at the opposite end of the spectrum of the Celtics team first ball.

Celts vs Rockets
Celts vs Rockets

While the Rockets have the edge on the intangibles, don’t expect them to necessarily win that effort today especially on the Celt’s home court.  If the Rockets let up even for a minute Boston will p0unce and they seldom give up a lead once established.

Keys to Winning:

Get Out To A Good Start:

More from Space City Scoop

This isn’t a team or a stadium you want to fall behind in, so a dialed in effort is required from the start of the game. .

Match the Celtics’ Defensive Intensity and Effort:

The Celtics boast the top 4 rated defense allowing just 100.1 points per 100 possessions. Like most of the top teams they’ve slipped a bit post All-Star break trying to get their flow but remain a top ranked team and the slippage they’ve suffered defensively has been increased on offense.  Bottom line the Rockets will need to match the Celtics intensity especially in bean town.

Three Ball Anyone?

The Rockets are known for shooting the 3 and the Celtics are known for stopping it. Who wins this battle will likely end up with the “W” at night’s end. c

Prediction:

The odds makers give the edge to Boston by a 5.5 point margin with a predicted over – under of a whopping 223 points and early heavy action on Boston. I mean the Celtics haven’t lost on their home court since January 6th. Then again, Toronto hadn’t lost on their home court since January 3rd prior to the Rockets pulling off the comeback in the 6ix.

The Rockets certainly can’t take this team for granted as they’ve beat some very solid teams and find themselves battling to maintain their three seed. The Celtics, Heat, Hornets and Hawks are all within 3 games of that 3rd seed, so the Rockets should expect a battle. That said the Rockets for all intensive purposes should be the more desperate team to secure their post season entry and further to move up out of the eighth or seventh seeds which is a virtual first round death.

Normally I’d go with the Celtics given their home court prowess and the Rockets inconsistencies, but I think the Celtics might be due for a loss and the Rockets might actually have finally accepted the fact every game is crucial and avoiding the Warriors and Spurs would be ideal at least initially.

I’m calling this a squeaker with someone unexpected scoring the go ahead bucket. Rockets by 2

For more exciting news and stories on the Boston Celtics visit our affiliate FanSided site: Hardwood Houdini

And check our our Preseason Team Preview of the Boston Celtics:

Next: Celtics Win-Win Season

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