Celtics Hold Off Rockets
Celtics Hold Off Rockets
January 12, 2004
HOUSTON - For the first time in his head coaching tenure with Boston, Jim O'Brien earned a win in the state of Texas as his team made its first appearance at the new Toyota Center last night. The Celtics defeated the Rockets, 97-93, as they stretched their winning streak to three games and continued their string of impressive road performances. In the East, only Indiana and New Orleans have posted better road records than the Celtics' 10-8 mark.
The Celtics beat the Rockets at their own game, playing tough defense for much of the game and holding the home team to 44-percent shooting from the floor. But that didn't keep Houston from closing to within 3 points (77-74) when Steve Francis hit a 20-footer with 6:27 remaining in the fourth. To their credit, the Rockets picked up their defensive intensity in the fourth, often causing the Celtics to force outside jumpers with little time left on the shot clock.
There was nothing forced, however, about Mike James's first field goal, a 3-pointer from the left corner that came with 3:36 left in the fourth and supplied Boston with some temporary breathing room down the stretch. Scott Padgett found his touch from the arc and brought Houston within 3 points (89-86), but Jiri Welsch (21 points) responded from the left corner.
However, Cuttino Mobley got loose for a driving layup that brought Houston within 2 points (92-90) with 43 seconds remaining. On the other end, Paul Pierce (27 points) drew a foul on a drive to the basket and remained perfect from the line, pushing Boston ahead, 94-90, with 22.8 seconds left.
O'Brien knows exactly what to expect when he faces a team coached by Jeff Van Gundy. Good defense.
The Rockets entered last night's game with the best field goal defense in the league, holding opponents to just 39 percent from the floor. And teams were averaging just 83.7 points per game against the Rockets. All of that made the Celtics' first-half performance particularly impressive as they outscored the Rockets, 46-38, while shooting 47 percent from the floor.
It's even more impressive after Boston's 5-minute-5-second- long scoring drought in the second quarter.
Boston built its early lead by following the game plan O'Brien espoused before tipoff.
"We need to try to spread them out a little bit and move them, instead of letting Yao [Ming] and [Kelvin] Cato and [Maurice] Taylor just lay in the paint and distract everything you're trying to run to the basket," said O'Brien.
"We need to make outside shots and make sure they're intelligent shots, from the standpoint of penetration to draw defenders, then go inside out. You're not going to score on the first side of the court against Jeff Van Gundy's teams. He's going to load up that side of the court. So, you have to make sure that you have ball movement and player movement."
In an effort to spread out the Houston defense, Walter McCarty (21 points) replaced Chris Mihm as Boston's starting center. That strategy worked to perfection in the first half as McCarty scored 16 of his points before the break, going 4 for 5 from 3-point range.
And the Celtics finished the half with 12 assists. Coming off the bench, rookie Marcus Banks led the way with four assists in just 12 minutes. After Jim Jackson hit a 3-pointer with 7:05 left in the first to give Houston a 7-point lead (14-7), Boston responded with a 15-4 run.
Welsch started the spurt by turning a James pass into a 21-footer. Boston took the lead for the first time when Banks hit Pierce for a 3-pointer with 2:13 remaining in the first. With a pair of free throws from Banks, the Celtics took a 24-20 lead at the end of the first.
With an early 10-0 run, the Celtics opened up a 13-point (39-26) lead in the second. McCarty dominated during the run, pouring in 8 points with a pair of 3-pointers and a 14-footer. All three baskets came off assists (two for Ricky Davis and one for Banks). But once McCarty hit a 3-pointer to cap the run with 6:13 left in the second, the Celtics' offense stalled. The visitors did not come out of their funk until Welsch hit a 3-pointer with 1:08 remaining until halftime, pushing Boston back ahead by 7 points.
Welsch scored Boston's final 7 points of the first half.
But it wasn't all about what the Celtics did on offense. Van Gundy knows to expect a strong defensive effort from any team coached by O'Brien. After all, the Celtics rank fourth in the league in field goal defense, holding opponents to 42 percent from the floor. They did even better against the Rockets in the first half, allowing the home team to shoot just 33 percent. Jackson (12 points) was the only Houston player to reach double figures in the first half.
The Celtics led by as many as 12 points (53-41) in the third before the Rockets reeled off a 13-4 run. With 4:54 left in the period, Francis capped the run, drawing Houston within 3 points (57-54). After Mihm hit a 4-foot hook shot, Francis kept the Houston deficit at 3 points with an 18-footer. Then, McCarty went to work from the arc and doubled the Boston advantage. A 3-pointer by Pierce gave Boston a 7-point advantage with little more than a minute left in the third. Taylor dropped in an 11-foot fadeaway jumper, leaving the Celtics ahead, 65-60, entering the fourth.
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