Celtics-Rockets Live: Houston’s Multi-Pronged Attack Dooms Paul Pierce, C’s

Kevin GarnettFinal, Rockets win 101-89: An emotional day on several levels is over. The Celtics lost, but the disappointment of their defeat was nothing compared to the feeling of loss on the opposite bench, where Kevin McHale coached just his third game since he lost his daughter to lupus.

As though this day needed any more reason to bring tears to our eyes, McHale and Kevin Garnett embraced after the game. Both big men with ties to Minnesota, who were briefly together as coach and player with the Timberwolves, got misty-eyed as McHale appeared to exchange some heartfelt words with the Big Ticket.

James Harden had 21 points. Paul Pierce had 18 points. We will be back to give you updates from the Celtics’ game against the Spurs on Saturday. Be safe, everybody.

Fourth quarter, 2:53, Rockets 96-85: This road trip could be off to a bad start for the Celtics unless they turn things around quickly. After pushing the ball — really, what else would they do? — Parsons found Harden in the opposite corner for a three ball to give Houston an 11-point lead.

Fourth quarter, 5:48, Rockets 88-80: The Celtics preserved their energy to make a late push, but the young Rockets look like they have more left in the tank at this point.

Garnett has played less than 25 minutes and Rondo is at just 33 minutes — a walk in the park for him — but Parsons’ 22-year-old legs appeared to have plenty of pop when he banked in a nearly impossible left-handed shot as the shot clock expired.

Fourth quarter, 8:54, Rockets 81-76: Is Greg Smith wearing an invisibility cloak? Multiple times in this game, Celtics big men have allowed Smith to slip into the paint uncontested. When the defender in question is Wilcox or Bass, the mistake is sort of understandable. When the perpetrator is Garnett, one of the singular post defenders in the league, the breakdown is more curious.

Smith has four of Houston’s six points in the fourth quarter and he is heading to the line for potentially two more. Not a bad night for him.

End of third quarter, Rockets lead 75-70: The Celtics have 12 minutes to find some sort of flow offensively, because in the first three quarters their offense came in fits and starts. They were outscored by seven points in the third quarter, after outscoring the Rockets by 10 points in the second quarter and getting blitzed 27-19 in the first quarter.

By that pattern, the fourth should be just perfect for Boston.

Rondo is responsible for the Celtics still being in this game, but he is also partially responsible for them being behind. His six turnovers have been costly, and Pierce’s 4-for-14 shooting mark has not helped, either.

Third quarter, 2:47, Rockets 68-62: Terry just looks more comfortable coming off the bench. If only his teammates shared his comfort.

Terry knocks down his third three of the night, but it only cuts the Rockets’ lead to five points. Houston is simply off and running, which is a credit to their backcourt players for pushing the ball and their frontcourt players for getting out and running. There is not a recognizable name for a casual fan among Houston’s bunch of forwards and centers, but Smith is making the Celtics pay for not taking him seriously. Smith keeps getting open down low and now has 14 points, more than any single player for Boston.

Third quarter, 5:30, Rockets 63-56: In an up-and-down game for both sides, Parsons is one of the few consistent presences. The second-year forward out of Florida is tied with Harden for the game-high in scoring with 13 points, and he has gotten those points in versatile ways.

Everybody who pays attention knows Parsons can jump, so the dunks should not be any surprise. But Parsons also has a corner three and drop-stepped baseline to beat Green with a hook shot off the glass to extend Houston’s second-half lead to nine points.

Halftime, Celtics lead 45-43: Jeremy Lin’s numbers are down this season, as if they had anywhere else to go after last season’s sensational two months. That does not mean the Harvard product has been completely ineffective, though.

He showed his varied skill set in the first half, when he abandoned trying to score himself against Rondo’s pressure defense. Instead, he diced up the Celtics’ new trapping approach to pick-and-rolls, dealing out seven assists before halftime. Lin assisted Houston’s last three buckets, all of them layups, to help the Rockets close the gap. He had a shot to give them the lead at the buzzer but missed the corner three attempt long.

The problem for the Rockets, as we have outlined, is not Lin in particular, but Lin and Harden playing together.

Pierce led all scorers with 12 points, but he shot just 3-for-10. Greg Smith, a second-year forward out of Fresno State and a beneficiary of Lin’s playmaking talents, had 11 points and six rebounds off the bench to lead Houston.

Second quarter, 2:37, Celtics 41-37: Paul Pierce essentially said: Thanks, bench dudes. I’ll take it from here.

Since Terry’s tying triple, the Celtics have burst out on a 9-5 run. Pierce is at the forefront with a tough layup and a hesitation three with a hand in his face. The captain is feeling it, and the Celtics would be best served to just give him the damn ball.

Second quarter, 6:38, game tied 32-32: Here come the Celtics. After Carlos Delfino hit a triple, the Celtics have taken off, with Garnett spearheading the comeback of course. Garnett hit a pair of free throws to spark the 9-0 run that Jeff Green continued with a fastbreak dunk and Terry buried another trey to knot it up.

The Celtics bench is off and running, which is what the Rockets thought would play into their hands.

End of first quarter, Rockets lead 27-19: So, this Harden guy. He’s pretty good, eh?

Harden showed off a full array of his scoring skills in the first quarter. He Euro-stepped past Rondo for a layup, unleashed a completely uncoverable stepback jumper and bulled into Jason Terry off the break to draw a two-shot foul.

Terry drained the first shot he took, a three from the wing, to cut the Celtics’ deficit to seven points, but the Celtics got no closer.

First quarter, 2:31, Rockets 23-13: Rondo is all over the place, both in good ways and bad.

Rondo committed three unsightly turnovers, all of them off pure carelessness, and thunked a layup attempt off the bottom of the rim — yes, really — but he also found Chris Wilcox with two nifty passes for point-blank shots.

Give Lee credit for not giving up on any play. Lee’s hustle back on defense helped prevent a layup by Parsons after one of Rondo’s turnovers.

First quarter, 6:53, Rockets 15-4: Lee got the start for his defense, which the Celtics certainly need against Harden. But for Lee to justify the faith in his defensive game, he needs to make some shots, too.

Lee hit what looked like a corner three, but it was ruled that it was only a two-pointer. That was a shame for Lee, because he needs to find his stroke from the corner. Those corner shots are some of the most efficient shots in basketball and he shot 48 percent from those spots last year. This year he is shooting just 31 percent.

Lee’s defense has turned out to be perfectly fine. The rest of the Celtics players, not so much. Following Lee’s jumper, the Rockets have scored eight straight points, with Harden’s stepback jumper capping off the run.

First quarter, 10:06, Rockets 6-2: The Rockets have a lot of weaknesses defensively, but one advantage they have on the Celtics is their young, fresh legs. Parsons aggressively runs the floor, and he turns that into an open 3-pointer in secondary transition and a shooting foul on the break.

7:20 p.m.: OK, it’s going to be tough to focus on basketball with all that has happened. Our hearts go out to the residents of Newtown, Conn. — especially the children who lost their classmates and the parents who have to come home without their little ones. Unthinkable.

Still, we’ll try, because just like the rest of us, you probably want a reason to turn off the news and to cheer, rather than cry, for a little while.

Celtics coach Doc Rivers told reporters before the game that he planned to address the horrific shooting with his players.

“You go to shootaround and have a long talk with Kevin McHale, who lost his daughter, and then go back to the room and there’s 20 other parents,” Rivers said, according to a tweet by Celtics’ radio play-by-play man Sean Grande. “It’s just awful. Senseless. A very black day.”

In news that means much, much less on the grand scale, Courtney Lee will start in place of Jason Terry.

The projected starting lineups appear below.

Celtics
Kevin Garnett
Brandon Bass
Paul Pierce
Courtney Lee
Rajon Rondo

Rockets
Omer Asik
Patrick Patterson
Chandler Parsons
James Harden
Jeremy Lin

10 a.m. ET: When the Celtics last took the floor against a Texas opponent, they played 10 minutes of free basketball. After a day off from practice to recover from that tough win over the Mavericks, the Celtics hope for a much shorter, much easier victory over the Rockets.

Houston is led by James Harden, who came over from Oklahoma City in a late preseason trade and has become unquestionably the Rockets’ best player. Along with point guard Jeremy Lin and small forward Chandler Parsons, Harden has helped make the up-tempo Rockets a headache to play against.

Omer Asik, another offseason acquisition, has tried to wipe out most of the defensive mistakes of his star backcourt, but so far the results have been mixed. Asik’s top task against the Celtics will be to slow Kevin Garnett.

Join us for updates and analysis during the game, which tips off at 8 p.m. ET.

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