FINAL: Houston: 115 Boston: 104
Tell me if you’ve seen all of this before. The Celtics come into a game, look good for a stretch of time, fall behind big, and then try to claw all the way back and fail. That has been this season in a nutshell so far and yesterday afternoon was another example. They trailed by as much as 28 points in this game and led the game twice; once at 2-0 and once at 6-5. Other than that, the Rockets imposed their will on the green and with the help of James Harden (42 points) and Eric Gordon (32 points, 8-12 from downtown) who roasted the Celtics from the outside. Boston didn’t have an answer for either and they both (especially Gordon) got looks where not a soul was within 5 feet of them.
The rotations on defense were shoddy at best and more often than not Houston was able to capitalize on that. Chris Paul was tame on the scoring sheet as he had 15 points but he had the ball on a string and doled out 12 assists. He was in complete control on offense and it seemed like the Celtics had no means of stopping him from setting up his teammates with wide open looks. As we know, the Rockets live and die off of the three ball and layups. They don’t like mid-range jumpers and love to play at a high pace to keep the defense off balance. The Celtics let them play their game and they looked far too comfortable on offense. Paul was legitimately flinging cross court passes on the money and he picked apart the Celtic defense all afternoon long.
Scoring wise Kyrie Irving led the way with 24 points while Al Horford and Marcus Smart each poured in 19 and 18 points respectively. Al was so efficient on offense and his 7-8 showing from the floor was just the tip of the iceberg for him. Amidst all of the turmoil and drama Horford has continued to do his job and he’s been a bright spot for this team as of late. The way he and Kyrie run pick plays is a sight to behold and when they have that connection going they’re tough to stop.
Other than that a few others caught my eye as I watched the game. Marcus Morris Sr. was 0-3, played only 18 minutes, and barely saw the floor in the second half. He’s struggled mightily as of late and as I wrote last week, I’d like to see a change in the starting 5. Jaylen Brown was just fantastic yesterday and I couldn’t help but think this game was a prime example of why he should be re-entered into the starting 5. He had 15 points and 6 rebounds on 7-13 shooting and gave James Harden a tough time on defense. If it wasn’t for his activity on defense and the heart he showed down the stretch there wouldn’t have been any sort of comeback. He ignited a fire into this team and for a good stretch in the second half he was the best player on the court. It’s time for Brad Stevens to make this move and maybe it will also reinvigorate Morris’ game before heading into the playoffs.
For Boston this game boiled down to a few key things. Letting the Rockets dictate the pace and style was one, poor defense was another, but effort was the most glaring of all. They show you flashes of how they can play when they’re focused and becomes even more puzzling as to why they don’t give that same effort at all times. If they played every single minute of yesterday’s game like they did in the 4th quarter this whole game recap may be a whole lot different. I wouldn’t harp on this as much if it wasn’t such a recurring theme that plagues this team on a nightly basis. Then again, shouldn’t this be expected after how we’ve heard them address these issues to the media?
Kyrie Irving flat out said that he wants the regular season BS to be over and to get to the playoffs. The rest of the team just seems to preach that things will change but we never really hear any plan of attack on that front. It’s just a simple “I’m not sure what’s wrong with us but we’re going to fix it” . Maybe they don’t know what’s wrong but maybe instead of just expecting things to work themselves out they work to figure out what’s wrong, together. There’s been so much talk about how this team doesn’t like each other and how the locker room has been a very quiet and somber place this season.
After such a disappointing game reports came out that one of the most even-keeled and calm Celtics had some words for his teammates. During a timeout where the Celtics trailed 71-43, the Semi Ojeleye laid into his teammates as he shouted at them to “Wake the fuck up!”. After the game when asked about his outburst Ojeleye had this to say:
“I don’t normally do that, but I felt like we were kind of splitting apart, And I think we have to try to change it. I mean, the season’s wasting away. In the NBA teams are only together for so long. So it’s time to change it.
Making or missing shots isn’t going to determine our wins or losses, It’s really about effort right now. And I was just trying to tell guys to wake up. The look on everybody’s faces was like we already lost the game, and it was the start of the third quarter.
It’s been tough [for the Celtics lately] because the reason you play basketball is to be a part of a group, a second family, a group of brothers. I think right now we’re struggling to find that in each other. And I think when we do – because we’re definitely capable of it, we’ve shown it at times – I think everything will come together.”
I found Ojeleye’s comments to be a good thing and I’m happy instead of just saying “we’ll get it together” he cited their effort and gave his reasoning for why he thinks they’re struggling. I just think those words coming from a guy who works his tail off and sees little to no minutes is important. It’s also clear that the reason he gave it to his teammates is because he cares. That guy works hard and when he’s in the game he leaves it all out there because he doesn’t know the next time he’ll get his number called. He’s basically calling them all spoiled as from his standpoint it’s like “If I was out there the amount these other guys are I’d give 110% every single possession.” He sees them waste opportunities while he rides the bench and it has to be frustrating night in and night out.
While there have been many instances that could be deemed a possible turning point, none have came to fruition. There have been so many times this season where it’s felt like rock bottom. The Knicks loss in November, The Florida debacle, and other moments have proven to not be rock bottom. Every time we say “things can’t get any worse” the Celtics tell us to hold their proverbial beer. I’ll be honest with all of you…I’m not confident in this team right now but there still is time. 18 games. That’s how long they have to right this ship and get things together before the postseason. No matter what happens in the regular season do I still think they’ll show up in April? I personally do. I’ll bank on their talent but the more they throw up on themselves the harder it is to keep this belief.
The Celtics head out west for a 4 game road trip which starts tomorrow night, in Golden State, against the best team of this decade. Things aren’t getting easier but if there was ever a time to go 3-1 or 4-0 on a road trip, this would be it