The last week or so wasn’t pretty and the Boston Celtics looked like a lost team.
There was an ugly loss to the lackluster New York Knicks, an overtime loss to a struggling Portland Trail Blazers squad – both at home – and then a blowout loss to the Washington Wizards with their opponents showing off by wearing funeral attire to the game. That game ended with Marcus Smart yelling at almost every coach on the staff during the final timeout, which saw him issuing an apology on Twitter when the night was over.
Boston had allowed 122.3 PPG over that three game losing streak and it still seems like Avery Bradley – the team’s clear but best defender – will still be out for at least a few more games. Yes, one of the three games piled on an extra five minute overtime period, but they’d still have allowed 117.6 PPG over that stretch if you take those five minutes out and that’s still an incredibly ugly number for an NBA team.
The Celtics entered their bout against the Houston Rockets on Wednesday night a desperate team and the starting lineup showed it. Smart – a usual bench player who had been starting in Bradley’s place – went back to the bench in favor of rookie Jaylen Brown and Jonas Jerebko slid into the starting lineup for Amir Johnson. The stable rotation that helped Boston move into third place in the Eastern Conference was gone, the extremely little used James Young was getting first quarter minutes and it seemed like head coach was just making things up as he went along.
When the game reached halftime, it almost seemed like the season’s low point of the bad loss in Washington had carried over into this one. Boston was whistled for three terminal fouls during the final four minutes of the second quarter and they trailed by six points at the half, which could have been a lot worse if it wasn’t for an Al Horford three at the buzzer. Having the Smart outburst lead into a string of techs just wasn’t a good look and it seemed like Stevens’ slew of random rotational changes didn’t seem to be working
Then the lost bunch found their way in the second half. They went back to basics and Smart was on the floor with the first unit to begin half number two, making the most of things right off the bat by knocking down a three on the opening possession of the third quarter.
Everybody knows that the Celtics are looking for a star player right now and it has irked Jae Crowder a bit, which a lot of the players getting mentioned being small forwards who would likely steal his lineup spot; Kevin Durant, Jimmy Butler, Gordon Hayward. But that third quarter in which the Celtics finally found themselves once again had the trademark grit of Crowder that we’ve all come to love written all over it. The former Marquette standout scored 13 points, four rebounds, two steals and two assists in the frame en route to a 23 point, ten rebound, four assist night.
All the regulars came together in the second half and came up big. Isaiah Thomas dropped 38 on the Rockets when it was all said and done, Al Horford dominated stretches of the game – finishing with 20 points, nine assists, three steals and three rebounds – Smart wound up stuffing the stat sheet with seven points, six assists, four rebounds and three steals, Jerebko was a perfect 3-for-3 from the field and even Kelly Olynyk had an efficient game in 17 minutes off the bench, scoring five points on 50% shooting (2-for-4) to go along with five rebounds and two assists. Terry Rozier – who has become a regular with Bradley out – did struggle at times and was a forgettable 2-for-7 from the floor, but he did wind up hitting a big three pointer with under four minutes left to put the team up seven.
Houston is a really good team and beating teams like that always feel good, but this one would have been a big win even if it came against the Brooklyn Nets. The Celtics had lost three games in a row and Stevens was frantically making changes to his rotation at light speed, but they were able to regroup with things falling apart and dominate the second half when getting back to basics.
They have one day off and then they’ll face the Orlando Magic and Milwaukee Bucks on back-to-back nights.