Can eight points make that much of a difference?
When it comes to beating the Houston Rockets, it makes all the difference in the world.
Averaging a league high 106 points per game, a defensive minded team that is able to hold them to 98 points or fewer has a very good chance at taking the high flying Rockets down – and though that’s easier said than done, the Boston Celtics’ recent defensive surge has them in prime position to do just that.
The Houston Rockets invade the TD Garden this evening at 7:30. boasting that lofty scoring mark, While the Celtics enter the contest yielding just 83 points per game for the current four game winning streak. Not surprisingly, the defensive prowess coincides with the return of shooting guard Avery Bradley from shoulder surgery.
“Avery’s arrival was huge because our defense is now back to the defense that we were last year.” Director of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge said this morning, also noting that he expects to see a marked improvement in their overall defensive numbers now that Boston has their regular starting lineup whole again.
“By putting Avery back in the starting lineup, all of a sudden our team is playing at the same level, if not better, than we did last year.” Ainge continued, “So, I think that you would have to say that Avery’s impact has been huge. And obviously it isn’t just Avery. But because of Avery, every other person’s defense has picked up.”
That defense will be put to the test this evening, but Ainge believes that the presence of Bradley has a team-wide effect that can limit the Rockets’ high flying scoring circus. “the biggest factor I think is that that guy plays so hard, he exposes everybody else on the court if they’re not playing defense, just by his play.”
The Celtics’ plight is eased somewhat by the Rockets’ giving up an unsavory 103.6 points per game, second highest in the league. As a result, Houston frequently gets into shootouts with the opposition, their up-tempo style dictating the pace. But if a team is able to control the clock and slow it to a half-court game – limiting the possessions that Houston has to work with, the numbers favors the opposition.
The Rockets’ version of the Mendoza line is 98. In games where the Rockets score over 98 points per game, they are an elite 18-6, but when held under that mark, Houston is a bottom feeding 3-9. Obviously that mark is something the Celtics will be aiming to keep them from reaching.
The Celtics record against the Western conference is anything but elite, as before Bradley returned the Celtics lacked the athleticism to matchup with that trend among the best in the west, particularly on the road. Boston is a a stellar 6-2 against Western Conference teams at home, but a mediocre 6-7 overall – including a 101-89 setback at Houston a month ago.
The Celtics have to be happy about the play of Bradley, his impact on the overall play of the team – and the fact that they are playing at home.
All of those things point to good fortunes tonight at the Garden.