LOS ANGELES – Boston Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla has called on his men to be more “committed” to their overall game, following a shock 111-109 National Basketball Association (NBA) loss on Monday night.
Jaylen Brown erupted for 43 points but it was not enough to stop Boston losing to the lowly Houston Rockets at the Toyota Centre.
The Celtics (47-22) had been looking to close the gap on the Milwaukee Bucks (49-19) at the top of the Eastern Conference. Houston are propping up the Western Conference with the NBA’s worst record (16-52).
But they were caught cold by a fired-up Rockets side, who shared the scoring in a tight contest that saw 15 lead changes.
“You’ve got to take the shots you have when you’re open,” Mazzulla said. “Offensive rebounds, second chance points, turnovers – that’s the game.
“I don’t care if you shoot half-court shots, if you don’t win those three margins you’re not going to win many basketball games.
“When we’re at our best, we do that, when we’re inconsistent we don’t. We have to be committed to those.”
Jalen Green missed 21 of 29 shots from the floor but finished 10 of 11 from the free-throw line and led Houston with 28 points while four other players finished in double figures.
Jabari Smith Jr posted 24 points with 12 rebounds while Kenyon Martin added 20 points. Kevin Porter Jr finished with 14 points, six rebounds and 13 assists, and Jae’Sean Tate had 11 points off the bench.
Boston could have forced overtime but Jayson Tatum – who finished with 22 points and a team-high eight rebounds and six assists – missed a driving layup in the final seconds as Houston held on for the win.
The defeat leaves the Celtics two games behind leaders Milwaukee – who beat the Sacramento Kings 133-124 – in the race for the Eastern Conference’s No. 1 seeding with 13 regular-season games remaining.
The Rockets, by contrast, are already eliminated from post-season contention and remain bottom of the Western Conference despite Monday’s victory.
Houston coach Stephen Silas was pleased with his young team, praising them for showing progress after some recent defeats in which they let the game slip late in those contests.
“We’re a work in progress, but when we understand the moment, it’s gratifying as a coach for sure,” he said. “We’re constantly teaching them, but they need to feel it.
“As much as we can watch film and as much as we can talk about it, there’s no better teaching method than going through it and finding some success at the end of it.”
In another game on Monday, Jimmy Butler guided Miami to victory down the stretch in the Heat’s 119-115 home win over the Utah Jazz.
He finished with 24 points as seven Miami players ended in double figures.
“Jimmy’s energy, relentlessness and aggressiveness in these kind of minutes is super unique,” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said.
Tyler Herro and Gabe Vincent finished with 18 points apiece while Bam Adebayo added 16 points and Kevin Love 11. Victor Oladipo and Caleb Martin combined for 21 off the bench.
Lauri Markkanen led Utah’s scoring with 38 points but Miami showed the greater composure at key points in a game where the lead changed hands 17 times.
Miami, who improved to 37-33, are seventh in the East, one spot outside the automatic post-season play-off spots with 12 games left.
“We just have to continue to grind and figure out how to win some other skirmishes,” Spoelstra added.
“At this point, with 12 games left, it’s just however we need to do it, we just have to do it.” AFP