Boston Celtics (32-10) at Houston Rockets (20-21) Game #43 1/21/24

Boston Celtics (32-10) at Houston Rockets (20-21) Game #43 1/21/24


The Celtics begin a 3 game road trip with a stop in Houston to take on the Rockets. This is the 2nd and final game between these two teams this season. The Celtics won the first game 145-113 in Boston on January 13. The Celtics and Rockets tied the series last season with each team winning on their home court. The Celtics are 96-53 all time overall against the Rockets and they are 45-33 in games played in Houston.

The Rockets are playing in the 2nd game of a 3 game home stand. They are playing on the second night of back to back games, having hosted Utah in a game that went to overtime on Saturday. The Rockets are 2-5 so far on the second night of back to back games. They will host Portland on Wednesday to complete this home stand. They will then head out on the road to play at Charlotte and Brooklyn before returning home for another 3 game home stand.

The Celtics begin a 3 game road trip in Houston and will play the Mavericks in Dallas on Sunday. The Celtics are 6-1 on the first night of back to back games and 1-0 when that first game is on the road. The Celtics will complete the road trip on Thursday in Miami. They then return home for a 7 game home stand against the Clippers, Pelicans, Pacers, Lakers, Grizzlies, Hawks, and Wizards.

The Celtics remain 1st in the East. They are 3 games ahead of 2nd place Milwaukee, 3.5 games ahead of 3rd place Philadelphia, 6 games ahead of 4th place Cleveland, 7 games ahead of 5th place New York and 8 games ahead of 6th place Miami. The Celtics are 12-9 on the road and 6-4 in their last 10 games. They are 9-4 against Western Conference opponents. They are coming off a loss in their last game.

The Rockets are 11th in the West. They are tied with the 10th place Los Angeles Lakers for the final play-in spot. They are 3 games behind 7th place Sacramento and the first play in spot. They are 3.5 games behind 6th place Dallas and the last guaranteed playoff spot. They are 1.5 game ahead of 12th place Golden State. They are 16-6 at home and 4-6 in their last 10 games. They are 5-11 against Eastern Conference teams and won their last game after losing the previous 3.

Jrue Holiday is once again on the injury report with elbow soreness and has been ruled out for this game. Al Horford is also out for this game for rest since the Celtics are beginning a back to back set. Both were originally listed as a game time decision but have now been ruled out. I expect Derrick White to play the point and Jaylen Brown moves over to shooting guard and I’m guessing that Sam Hauser starts at small forward but that is just a guess.

For the Rockets, Reggie Bullock is listed as out with lower back pain. Tari Eason has been out since January 1 with a lower leg injury. He is out for this game. Victor Oladipo has yet to play this season after having knee surgery in the off season. He is also listed as out for this game. Jabari Smith, Jr left the Rockets game on Saturday after turning his ankle and is out for this game as is Fred VanVleet with back soreness.

Probable Celtics Starters

Celtics ReservesDelano BantonOshae BrissettLuke KornetSvi MykhailiukPayton PritchardLamar StevensJordan Walsh

2 Way PlayersJD DavisonDrew PetersonNeemias Queta

Injuries/OutJrue Holiday (elbow) outAl Horford (rest) out

Head CoachJoe Mazzulla

Probable Rockets Starters

Rockets Reserves Reggie Bullock, JrAaron Holiday Jock LandaleBoban MarjanovicAmen ThompsonCam Whitmore

Two-Way PlayersJermaine Samuels, JrNate HintonNate Williams

Injuries/Out Reggie Bullock (back) outJabari Smith, Jr (ankle) outTari Eason (leg) out Victor Oladipo (knee) out Fred VanVleet (back) outJeff Green (calf) out

Head CoachIme Udoka

Key Matchups

Kristaps Porzingis vs Alperen SengunSengun is averaging 21.6 points, 8.9 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 1.2 steals per game. He is shooting 53.9% from the field and 28.4% from beyond the arc. Sengun finished the first game between these two teams with 19 points, 10 rebounds,3 assists and 4 steals. He shot 47.1% from the field but was 0-2 on threes. Porzingis has sat out some back to back games but is not listed on the injury report for this game at this time.

Derrick White vs Aaron HolidayWith Fred VanVleet a late scratch for the Rockets, I expect Aaron Holiday to get the start at the point. His brother Jrue is out for the Celtics, or we could see a fun brother against brother matchup. As it is, I’m expecting Derrick White to start at the point for the Celtics and should get the best of this matchup.

Honorable MentionJaylen Brown vs Jalen GreenGreen is averaging 17.4 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 3.1 assists per game. He is shooting 40.1% from the field and 33.1% from beyond the arc. In the January 13th game in Boston, he finished with 10 points, 3 rebounds, and 1 assist. He shot 33.3% from the field and 40% from beyond the arc. Since Holiday is out, I would guess that Jaylen Brown will start at shooting guard.

Keys to the Game Defense – Defense is always a key to winning. Players struggle on offense in some games, but they can always play defense. The Rockets are averaging 112.3 points per game (22nd). The Celtics are averaging 120.4 points per game (5th). The Rockets are 7th with a defensive rating of 112.5 while the Celtics are 2nd with a defensive rating of 110.6. The Celtics have to stick to their defensive identity in this one because the Rockets play tough defense and the Celtics can’t depend on a shoot out to win.

Rebound – In order to score, the Celtics need the ball and to get the ball, they will need to crash the boards as a team. The Celtics average 47.3 rebounds per game (1st) while the Rockets average 44.9 rebounds per game (7th). Much of rebounding is effort and when the Celtics put out extra effort on the boards, it usually carries over into the rest of their game. The Rockets are a very good rebounding team and so the Celtics must come into the game determined to put out extra effort and to hustle for every rebound to limit 2nd chance points for the Rockets.

Be Aggressive – The Celtics have to be aggressive in taking the ball to the basket and not settling for 3 pointers on every possession, especially if the 3s aren’t falling. Tatum and Brown were a combined 2-17 from three on Friday. It seems that if they had driven to the basket on a few of those instead of settling for 3s the Celtics might have won. They also have to be aggressive in hustling for rebounds and for loose balls. And they have to be aggressive on defense. They have to play harder than the Rockets and play like the team that wants this game more. They also need to carry that aggressiveness through all 4 quarters with no let up, especially the 3rd quarter, which the Celtics have been losing in recent gamesDon.

Don’t Underestimate – The Celtics easily beat the Rockets by 32 points in Boston just 8 days ago. They can’t use that to figure that this game will be an easy win. The Rockets are much better at home than they are on the road, and that is true of a lot of young teams. The Rockets will also be motivated to avenge that blow out win in Boston that will be fresh in their minds. The Celtics can’t underestimate the Rockets and have to come in and play their hardest to get a win in this game. This is especially true now that the Rockets are short handed.

X-Factors At Home Back to Back vs Road Game – The Celtics are on the road where they have a 12-9 record. The Celtics are playing on the first night of back to back games while the Rockets are playing on the second night of back to back games after going to overtime on Saturday night. The Celtics had to travel, stay in a hotel, play in front of a hostile crowd and on an unfamiliar court while the Rockets should get a boost from being on their home court.

Coaching – The Rockets are led by former Celtics coach Ime Udoka, who left Boston under less than desirable circumstances. He was suspended for violating team rules and assistant coach Joe Mazzulla was made interim coach. Eventually, Udoka was officially released and Mazzulla was made head coach. I am sure that Udoka would love nothing more than to beat the team that let him go after he led that team to the Finals. He will also have his team motivated to avenge their 32 point loss in the game in Boston.

Officiating – The officiating is always an x-factor. Some referees call the game tight and others let them play. Some favor the home team and others call it evenly. Recently the officiating has been getting a lot of scrutiny for being visibly bad. The Celtics have to play through whatever calls go against them and not allow bad calls or no calls to take away their focus on the game.

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