It was supposed to be a great match-up that featured the Eastern and Western Conference leaders, but in the end a showdown that would only leave the Boston Celtics standing tall after an impressive display of defense en route to a 94-74 victory over the Houston Rockets, snapping their 22-game win streak. The streak which dated back to Jan. 27th was the 2nd longest winning streak in NBA history, only behind the 33-game steak the 1971-1972 L.A. Lakers team compiled in the midst of their championship season.
Fans in Houston definitely got their money’s worth in the first half of the contest, watching intense play go back and forth between the NBA powerhouses. Both teams were fired up, and tempers even flared before the opening tip when Celtics PG Rajon Rondo and Rockets PG Rafer Alston got into a shoving match that resulted in a double technical foul.
It was the Celtics who jumped out to an early lead but saw it slip away in the final three minutes of the period, capped with a steal and lay-up by Alston with only :03 seconds left on the clock. Alston ended the period with 9 points and the Rockets had a 22-21 advantage.
Houston jumped out to their largest lead of the game with 8:45 remaining in the 2nd quarter after Bobby Jackson netted a jumper to make the score 32-25 in favor of the Rockets. The Celtics fired back going on a 15-8 run to end the half, which ended with a Paul Pierce 3-pointer with :30 seconds left on the clock, tying the score at 40-40.
The second half was a different story, a story about defense.
Boston held Houston to a season low of only 34 points on 11-33 shooting (.33%) from the field in the half and capitalized on turnovers to turn a tied ballgame into a one-sided victory for the Celtics. At one point late in the 4th quarter the C’s took a 27 point lead on a powerful drunk by Kevin Garnett with 1:33 to play.
Rockets’ leading scoring Tracy McGrady was kept in check all night by aggressive, in your face defense, and the All-Star only scored 8 points on a 4 for 11 shooting display.
“It’s not disappointing,” McGrady said on yahoo.com. “It’s a hell of a team over there. They outplayed us. I’ve never seen a defense like that. I mean, if they play defense like that, night in and night out, the NBA is in trouble because that was defense at its finest.”
Garnett led the way for the Celtics recording another double-double with 22 points and 11 rebounds in the win. In only 20 minutes of action, reserve PF Leon Powe scored 21 points while captain Paul Pierce chipped in with 20. The team was again without SG Ray Allen who sat out his third consecutive game with a sore left ankle injury.
With the loss, the Rockets fall back into a tie with the Lakers for the best record in the Western Conference at 46-21. The Celtics remain in charge in the Eastern Conference, now 5 games ahead of the 2nd place Detroit Pistons with the NBA’s best record of 54-13.
Up next, the Celtics continue their Texas swing after impressive wins vs. the Spurs and Rockets to face the Dallas Mavericks on Thursday 3/20 for the fourth game of a five game road trip. In the only meeting between the Celts and Mavs, Boston captured a 96-90 victory at home on Jan. 31st in a game where Garnett sat out with an injury and Pierce and Allen both hit for 26 points.