Celtics intercept Rockets

Avery Bradley, challenging the Houston Rockets' James Harden (left), says the Boston Celtics have worked hard to capitalise on forcing turnovers to score points.
Avery Bradley, challenging the Houston Rockets' James Harden (left), says the Boston Celtics have worked hard to capitalise on forcing turnovers to score points.PHOTO: REUTERS

Home team fail to get into orbit as Boston thrive on steals and fast breaks to win

HOUSTON • One night after choking the life out of the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Boston Celtics did the same to another National Basketball Association Western Conference contender, underlining their reputation as a burgeoning defensive juggernaut.

Celtics guard Avery Bradley scored 21 points off the bench and the Celtics turned a pair of backbreaking runs into a 111-95 win over the struggling Houston Rockets on Monday at Toyota Center.

Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas added 23 points and six assists as Boston (6-4) erased what was once a 15-point deficit with a 15-0 blitz late in the second quarter.

Boston, playing their fifth game in seven days, put the game on ice by closing out the third quarter with another 15-0 run. That turned a 72-68 lead into an 87-68 runaway entering the fourth.

Forward Jae Crowder added 16 points for the Celtics, whose ball-hawking, half-court defence set the tone for the staggering momentum swing.

Boston scored a whopping 39 points off 22 Rockets turnovers and ran Houston (4-7) ragged with 22 fast-break points and 16 steals.

"One thing that we've been working on since the beginning of the year is being able to finish on the break as far as making the right play, if it's a finish or making the next pass," said Bradley. "I feel like we're doing a good job with that."

The Celtics have compiled a league-leading average of 11.3 steals per game.

Rockets forward Trevor Ariza paired 19 points with nine rebounds but had four turnovers.

Houston guards James Harden (16 points) and Ty Lawson added four turnovers apiece.

"We're hanging our head," said Rockets coach Kevin McHale after Houston's losing streak extended to four games - the first time they have endured such a bad run since they were winless in seven straight matches in January 2013. "Things aren't going our way and we hang our head. We haven't put together really good basketball all year long."

Added Rockets centre Dwight Howard, who had just five points and 12 rebounds: "When we make a mistake, we've got to get back down the floor. We've got to trust each other more.

"We just can't hold our heads when something bad happens."

Celtics guard Marcus Smart had team highs in rebounds (nine), assists (six) and steals (five).

Boston, who entered Monday fourth in the NBA in defensive rating, have won five of six and claimed their first victory in Houston since March 19, 2010.

"We can feel (opposing teams are defeated) and that's what we're trying to do," Smart said.

"Once we get on a roll like that in the defensive end, we lock down.

"We want teams to feel defeated.

"We want to keep our foot on the gas pedal and keep going."

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 18, 2015, with the headline 'CELTICS INTERCEPT ROCKETS'. Print Edition | Subscribe