Red-hot Rockets to host surging Celtics
HOUSTON — With one-quarter of their first season under Mike D'Antoni complete, the Rockets are resembling the offensive juggernaut many predicted following the consummation between D'Antoni and the Rockets' bevy of perimeter shooters.
The Rockets (13-7) completed their second five-game road trip of the season with a sparkling 4-1 record late Friday, capped by victories over the Golden State Warriors and Nuggets on consecutive nights. Houston played a league-high 14 road games thus far but are still generating serious momentum on the offensive end of the court.
The Rockets, second in the league in points per game (111.3) and third in offensive rating (113.8 points per 100 possessions), averaged 121.6 points during their five-game roadie against Western Conference foes. The Rockets extended their NBA-record streak of consecutive games with at least 10 3-pointers to 19, a blitz that helped mask their defensive warts and the imbalance of playing so many road tilts.
“There'll be nights where we'll take a step back, and we can still get in our pick-and-rolls a little quicker,” D'Antoni said of the offense. “We can get a lot better, but it's a pretty good spot (to be in).
“You've got James (Harden) and Ryan (Anderson) and Trevor (Ariza), all those guys. You're going to score. I can't mess it up that bad. We just try to help them as much as we can and get out of the way.”
Entering Sunday, the Rockets had five players ranked among the top eight in the NBA in 3-pointers: reserve guard Eric Gordon (second with 63), Harden (fourth, 58), Ariza (seventh, 56), and Anderson (eighth, 54). With the Boston Celtics paying a visit to Toyota Center on Monday, everything is going according to plan for the Rockets.
“Twenty games in we're pretty solid,” Harden said. “We've still got a long way to go in the aspect of executing better … but I like where we're at.”
The Celtics (12-8) won six of eight and are two games into a stretch of eight of 10 on the road. They squeezed past the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday night behind another stellar performance from point guard Isaiah Thomas, whose 37-point effort marked his fifth 30-point game this season.
Because of Boston's backcourt depth, Thomas is averaging a relatively modest 33.3 minutes per game. He ranks ninth in the league in scoring (26.3 points) but outside the top 20 in average minutes. Given that efficiency, it's easy to question whether Thomas can handle a greater workload as the schedule reaches the winter.
“There's sometimes where you feel like those last few minutes of the third quarter are going to be really important moving forward, especially based on how your team's playing,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “You just have to make that decision are you going to take him out earlier in the third … and put him back in a little bit earlier or play him through until the 2- or 1-minute mark of the third and then get him his rest until the 7- or 6- (minute mark of the fourth quarter).
“Ultimately there will be days that are very consistent and there will be times I'm going to go with my gut. (The players) know that and we've talked about it.”