Posted on March 4, 2018, by Travis Pulver

It is going to be different when they face the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals. But the Houston Rockets showed the NBA-loving free world just why they do have championship potential Saturday night. Despite poor night from the floor by both of their superstars, the Rockets found a way to overcome the best defense in the NBA to win on the road.

Chris Paul and James Harden combined to go 11-29 and 4-16 from the three-point line against the Boston Celtics Saturday night. However, their teammates were more than happy to pick up the slack. In the end, the team won thanks to—you guessed it—defense.

Via @NBAFantasy

“Defense (is) what it boiled down to,” Rockets guard Eric Gordon said after the game (ESPN). “In the first half it was a little too easy for them … and the reason why we won was fourth-quarter defense.”

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It may seem crazy to say about a game where both teams scored 120 points. But defense was the deciding factor in this one. After falling behind by six-points, 113-107, with 4:01 to play, the Rockets were able to rip off a 16-7 run to win the game, 123-120.

The critical moment came when Trevor Ariza hit a three-pointer to tie the game up at 115-115 with 1:33 to play. On the very next play, he stole a Kyrie Irving pass and hit a layup seconds later to give Houston the lead, 117-115.

Al Horford missed a three-pointer on Boston’s next possession. Houston followed with a couple of misses by James Harden and Ariza which Horford followed up with another miss. But then a bad pass stolen by Ariza gave Houston the ball and made things start to look a little bleak for the Celtics.

At this point, there were only 23 seconds left to play and Houston had the ball. The Celtics couldn’t let Houston run down the clock, so they fouled Chris Paul and sent him to the line hoping he’d miss. He made both to put the Rockets up by four 119-115.

Kyrie Irving raced down court and made a quick layup to pull back with two but with only 7.9 seconds to play. Somehow both teams found enough time to foul each other and take ten more total free throws in the final seconds of the game.

In the end, Houston was up by three when Marcus Smart took a desperation three-pointer at the buzzer, but he missed.

“It’s a huge step for us,” Rockets forward Trevor Ariza said after the game (ESPN) “We haven’t had many games like that this year. Tonight definitely proved to us that we can win in that style of basketball, a grind-it-out type of game.”

Eric Gordon led the way for the Rockets with 29 points off the bench and was 7-11 from three-point range. Harden had 26 points and ten assists and Ariza had 21.

Much like Houston’s star players, the Celtics stars didn’t have great nights either Kyrie Irving and Al Horford combined to go 10-29 from the field and 2-8 from three-point range. Irving scored 18 and Horford had 10.

Like Houston, their leading scorer came off the bench, Marcus Morris. He had 21 points and was 5-7 from three-point.

“I just thought they maximized more possessions than we did,” Boston coach Brad Stevens said after the game (ESPN). “Those were two good teams playing and both teams deserve a lot of credit for how they played.”

Via @HoustonRockets

The Aftermath

With the loss, the Celtics fall 1.5 games behind the Toronto Raptors for the top seed in the East. But they still have a seven-game lead on the Cleveland Cavaliers for the No. 2 spot. They will try to get back on the right side of the scoreboard when they take on the Bulls in Chicago Monday night.

The win extends Houston’s win streak to 15 games and improves their record to an NBA best, 49-13. They will have a challenge on their hands when they try to extend it to 16-games Tuesday night in Oklahoma City.

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