By Tristan Deschenes
James Harden and Russell Westbrook combined to score 78 points and the Houston Rockets defeated the Boston Celtics 116-105. The loss snapped the Celtics' seven-game win streak and marks only their second loss in their last 12 games.
The big difference in the game: Free throws.
It felt like the whole game was comprised of the Rockets shooting free throws. The Rockets got to the line a ridiculous 42 times, and they converted on 37 of those free throws. Harden got to the line 18 times alone, and connected on all but one of his free throw attempts. Westbrook also got double-digit free throw attempts, as he hit ten of his 13 free throws by the night's end. Comparatively, Boston only got to the line 25 times, and knocked down 20 of their free throws.
Surprisingly, both teams started off slowly, with Boston holding a 49-47 lead at the half.
The Celtics shot only 40 percent from the field in the first half while the Rockets shot only 34 percent, and both teams struggled from the three point line in the half, with Boston shooting 27.8% and the Rockets shooting 26.9% from deep.
But the Rockets forced the Celtics into a stagnant offense, and Brad Stevens' team was forced to go to a lot of isolation basketball because of the Rockets' ability to switch everything with their small lineup.
That allowed Houston to pull away in the third quarter, too, as the Rockets went up by 12 with 2:50 to go in the third quarter after Harden knocked down a step-back three to make the score 72-60. A Gordon Hayward putback with 9.3 seconds left got the Houston lead down to 77-71, and Houston took a 78-71 lead into the fourth quarter.
But Harden took over in the quarter, really, and scored 19 points in the third quarter alone.
Despite the free throw discrepancy, the Celtics still gave themselves a shot. With 5:42 to go in the game, Jayson Tatum scored a fastbreak layup off of a Houston turnover to cut the Houston lead to 96-94.
But from that point on, it was all Houston. A Danuel House Jr. three pointer with 4:41 increased the Rocket lead to 104-96, and House would get the lead into double digits a minute later, when he scored a layup to increase their lead to 108-98.
All five starters scored in double figures for Boston, and it was Hayward who led the way with 20 points and eight rebounds. Jaylen Brown, who left the game with a calf ailment late in the fourth quarter, added 19 points. And Tatum finally had an off game, scoring only 15 points on 5-for-15 shooting, including not making a single three in his seven attempts.
Harden led the way for the Rockets as usual, dropping 42 points to go along with eight rebounds and seven assists. Westbrook, meanwhile, continued his great season scoring 36 points. He also grabbed ten rebounds and recorded five assists.
Up Next: Boston will face Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, and the Clippers on Thursday night.