Taking down the best: Three takeaways from Monday’s 111-109 win over the Celtics

Mar 13, 2023; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Rockets guard Jalen Green (4) reacts after scoring against Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum (0) and getting the foul called on Tatum in the first quarter at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports

Taking down the best: Three takeaways from Monday’s 111-109 win over the Celtics

The Rockets have now beaten the top three teams in the Eastern Conference after Monday’s 111-109 upset win over the Boston Celtics at Toyota Center. Down double digits in the fourth quarter, Boston made a furious comeback, but Jayson Tatum missed a layup at the buzzer that would’ve sent the game to overtime. Jalen Green’s 28 points led the Rockets, who played without Alperen Sengun, while Jabari Smith Jr. added 24 points. Houston withstood a 43-point night from Jaylen Brown to get its 16th win of the season. The Rockets beat Milwaukee and Philadelphia at Toyota Center in December.

Another elite performance from Jabari Smith Jr.

The draft’s No. 3 overall pick continues to play at the level that was expected back in June. He finished Monday’s game with 24 points and 12 rebounds on 9-of-11 shooting, and he made his first five 3-pointers. Smith has scored 20 points in three straight games for the first time all season, and he’s hit double-digit in six straight games for the first time since the first six games of the season.

“He’s going crazy right now,” Rockets guard Jalen Green said. “He’s in that mode. I’m happy for him cause we know the real Jabari and he’s showing it right now to everybody, everyone who doubted him, the haters, everyone, he’s showing it right now.”

Smith isn’t just putting up big scoring numbers over this stretch. He’s putting up big scoring numbers and doing it efficiently. Over the last six games, the 19-year-old is shooting 58.6% overall and 53.6% from behind the 3-point line. For good measure, Smith has also reached double digits in rebounding three games in a row for the first time.

Surviving Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown

In Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, the Celtics boast two of the NBA’s top 12 scorers, and after combining to score 77 points against the Rockets in December, they only put up 65 on Monday. Brown was a monster the entire night, scoring 21 in the first half and 43 in the game on 16-of-25 shooting, but the Rockets did a decent job on Tatum.

Tatum was held to 22 points, well below his 30.4 season average, on 8-of-22 shooting and 2-of-10 from behind the 3-point line. He finished the first half with just nine points while shooting just 3-of-12, but came on strong after halftime to score 13 points in the third quarter. Tatum went scoreless in the fourth quarter, missing all three of his shots, including a layup at the buzzer that would’ve tied the game.

Rockets play small without Alperen Sengun

Sengun tweaked his left groin on Saturday against the Bulls. Although he went through Sunday’s practice, the Rockets decided to sit him on Monday after he felt pain during a pregame walk-through. Despite having three other centers on the roster, the Rockets elected to start the game small by inserting Tari Eason into the starting lineup and moving Jabari Smith Jr. to center.

The move allowed the Rockets to spread out the NBA’s fourth-best defense without hurting them at the other end of the floor. Boston’s center, Al Horford, is a perimeter-oriented player, and the Celtics are the league’s worst offensive rebounding team.

Houston has opted to play small with Smith at center more often as the season has progressed, and this was the second straight game Smith has started at the five when Sengun has been out.

Next up

The Rockets will play the third game of their six-game homestand when the Los Angeles Lakers visit the Toyota Center on Wednesday night.

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