HOUSTON (Texas) • The Houston Rockets typically blow National Basketball Association (NBA) opponents away with their offence. But on Saturday, they showed they could literally steal a victory too.
The Boston Celtics found that out the hard way after leading the league's best team 113-107 with just over four minutes remaining.
The Rockets forced four turnovers by stealing the ball as many times, fuelling a 16-7 run to eke out a 123-120 win.
"It's a huge step for us," Rockets forward Trevor Ariza told ESPN after nailing the game-tying three-pointer and adding a go-ahead lay-up at Toyota Center.
"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."
This was just the fifth Rockets (49-13) game this campaign that was decided by three points or fewer, matching the reigning champions Golden State Warriors (49-14) for the fewest in the NBA.
P.J. Tucker set up the Ariza three-pointer with a steal off Terry Rozier before Ariza pilfered Kyrie Irving and dashed for a lay-up with 1min 16sec left for a 117-115 lead.
Consecutive games Houston have won.
Steals the Rockets had, with four in the last four minutes that forced the win.
Ariza and James Harden accounted for the other two late steals as Houston extended their winning streak to a season-high 15 games.
The hosts gained a measure of revenge against the Celtics (44-20), who rallied from a 26-point deficit for a 99-98 win in Boston on Dec 28.
Houston's winning streak ties the second-longest in franchise history which was achieved two times during the Hakeem Olajuwon-era in the 1990s.
The Rockets' best-ever run of success was a 22-game winning streak during the 2007-08 season.
"We're on a wave right now. We've got 20 games left, we've got to take it one at a time and try to have fun with it," Rockets star Harden said after scoring 26 points.
Fellow guard Eric Gordon added 29 points off the bench.
The Celtics bench combined for a season-high 67 points, including 21 from Marcus Morris.
But their winning streak since the All-Star break was snapped at four games when Marcus Smart's three-point heave bounced off the rim at the buzzer.
The Celtics shot 48.4 per cent overall and finished 13-for-24 on three-point tries.
"We did a great job of giving ourselves a chance to win, or a chance to tie and send it to overtime. Guys did an unbelievable job," said Boston coach Brad Stevens, who also confirmed that injured small forward Gordon Hayward will not return this season after breaking his ankle in their season-opener.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS