The Boston Celtics hit a new low Monday night after falling to the Houston Rockets, who are the worst team in the Western Conference and won just their 16th game of the season.
With all the chances in the world to capitalize, the Celtics fell flat on their faces in an ugly 111-109 loss in the second game of their two-week road trip. In the fourth quarter, Jaylen Brown, who scored a season-high 43 points, failed to connect on all of three free-throw attempts after drawing a crucial foul. Yet, Brown did cut the lead to just one point, which helped position the C’s for a late-game hero.
And with Boston down two on the game’s final possession, Jayson Tatum failed to deliver, missing a quality look at a layup attempt that secured Hoston’s third win since the NBA All-Star break.
This, of course, prompted head coach Joe Mazzulla to acknowledge a series of concerning areas that haunted the Celtics in the excruciating loss.
“Those are concerning, the margins,” Mazzulla told reporters, as seen on NBC Sports Boston’s postgame coverage. “The free throws, the rebounding, the turnovers, the second chances … that’s playoff basketball at its finest. The ability to win those situations. So it’s concerning that we’re inconsistent in that and we have to be committed to those, regardless of who we’re playing. Regardless of the situation, regardless of how many games are left. It doesn’t matter. You have to be committed to those.”
Boston committed 13 turnovers, as Tatum led that charge with four, to Houston’s 10 while also falling short in the rebound battle 48-38, as Mazzulla mentioned. Yet, despite making the Rockets look like a playoff-worthy opponent — which they’re far from — the Celtics still remained within reach of securing a third straight win. They entered the fourth quarter down just five points and in several instances in the game’s final frame were just a shot away from either tying or taking the lead.
But as the Celtics have continued to show since returning from the All-Star break, their inability to close out contests is extremely concerning. Tatum played far from an MVP-caliber candidate, shooting just 2-of-10 from beyond the arc and botching a potential game-tying layup as the cherry on top. Marcus Smart, who’s generally proved to be the go-to floor general, committed several questionable turnovers, which the Rockets made Boston pay for.
Playing down to competitors, especially those who are in contention for nothing more than the draft lottery, isn’t where the Celtics should be if they intend to make a serious push toward an NBA Finals return. Spotting a night against Houston should be a guaranteed double-digit win and one that sees Mazzulla sitting Tatum and Brown, then unloading the bench in the fourth quarter.
Instead, the Celtics created a greater deficit for themselves, falling two games back of the Milwaukee Bucks for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, increasing the pressure and importance of the next four games in their road trip.
The Celtics, with 13 games remaining on their regular season schedule, will next square off against the Minnesota Timberwolves. Tipoff from Target Center on Wednesday is set for 8 p.m. ET.