Two of the most talented teams in the NBA met at Toyota Center on Thursday, and the game didn’t disappoint.
The Boston Celtics’ duel with the Houston Rockets had all the makings of a late spring game, with Houston jumping out to an early 17-point lead before the Celtics roared back to take the lead in the third quarter.
Boston had no answer for the reigning NBA MVP, though, as James Harden poured in 45 points to lead the Rockets to a 127-113 win.
Kyrie Irving led the Celtics with 23 points, while Marcus Morris (19), Jaylen Brown (18), Al Horford (15) and Marcus Smart (13) also notched double figures.
With the loss, the Celtics fall to 20-14, while the Rockets improve to 19-15.
Here’s how it all went down:
PG: Kyrie Irving
SG: Marcus Smart
SF: Jayson Tatum
PF: Marcus Morris Sr.
C: Al Horford
ALL ABOUT THE BEARD
The Celtics and Rockets exchanged buckets early on, with Harden tallying eight points early in the frame to give Houston a small edge. With the Rockets leading by four at the midway point, Irving corralled a defensive rebound and found Smart with a nifty pass to cut the lead to 17-15 and force a Houston timeout.
The rest of the quarter belonged to the Rockets, however, as Houston finished the quarter on an 18-9 run to take a 35-24 edge into the second quarter.
Harden was magnificent in the opening frame, tallying 17 points and four assists. Morris led the C’s with six points.
CELTICS HANG TOUGH
Boston’s defense continued to get shredded to open the second quarter.
Austin Rivers and Daniel House knocked down back-to-back 3-pointers to immediately swell the lead to 17. The two teams traded buckets for the next 3:01, but a House tip-in gave Houston a 50-33 lead and forced Brad Stevens to take a timeout with just over eight to play in the half.
Boston responded out of the timeout, going on a 14-3 run over 4:18 to trim the lead to six with under four to play. Morris scored or assisted on 10 of the C’s 14 points during the run, canning consecutive triples to cap the spurt.
The C’s continued to outplay the Rockets for the remainder of the period, but were unable to take the lead as Houston held a 57-55 advantage at the break.
Harden led all scorers with 17 at the break, while Morris and Irving paced Boston with 12 each.
The Celtics finally caught the Rockets early in the third, as Tatum found Horford for an alley-oop to tie the game at 62 with 9:16 left in the stanza.
Houston jumped back out to a 72-66 lead thanks to 3-pointers from Eric Gordon and P.J. Tucker, but the Celtics came right back with a 13-7 run to tie the game at 79 with 3:47 to play.
Harden finally got going again to end the quarter. The star guard hit a stepback 3-pointer over Brown to push Houston’s lead to four. Then, after Irving hit a jumper to cut the lead to two, Harden found Nene for a layup to put the lead to 85-81 with under two to play.
The quarter ended with a flurry as Terry Rozier splashed a triple to cut Houston’s lead to three with 2.4 seconds remaining, but Rivers answered by banking in a 3-pointer of his own at the horn to give Rockets a 92-86 lead.
As was the case in the first half, Houston’s bench thoroughly outplayed Boston’s reserves with Harden getting a breather. With Gordon running the show, the Rockets went on a 13-6 run over the first 3:20 to take a 13-point lead. Gordon scored or assisted on eight of the Rockets’ 13 points over that span.
After a Brown and-1 cut the lead to 10, Houston answered with a quick 5-0 burst, as Clint Capela put back a Gordon miss and Harden splashed a deep 3-pointer to swell the lead to 110-95 with 7:44 to play.
Boston tried to claw its way back into the game, but each time they dented the lead, Harden made a play to stretch the lead back out.
With the lead still at 15, the Celtics made one final push with under four to play. Horford put home a layup and Semi Ojeleye knocked down a triple to cut the deficit to 10. But Harden slammed the door two possessions later when he came down and drew a foul on Ojeyele while shooting a 3-pointer. “The Beard” hit all three free throws to put the icing the on the win for Houston.
PLAY OF THE GAME
The full Rondo.
The Celtics will take the floor again Saturday when they visit the Memphis Grizzlies. Tip-off from FedEx Forum is set for 8 p.m. ET.