Four Leaf Clover: 4 takeaways from Celtics tough loss against the Rockets

BOSTON, MA - JANUARY 4: Kyrie Irving
BOSTON, MA - JANUARY 4: Kyrie Irving /

The Boston Celtics almost got it done. They led the Houston Rockets, who were on a 14-game winning streak, for nearly the entire game. But they couldn’t deliver when the game was on the line.

The NBA world got a treat on Saturday night when the Boston Celtics visited the Houston Rockets. 29 fanbases were gifted with a great game and went to bed with their basketball calories fulfilled for the day.

Unfortunately, the same could not be said for Celtics fans.

After maintaining a lead for most of the game, the Celtics had a mini-breakdown. They were playing their best basketball of the season until Houston took advantage. A two-minute stretch decided the entire game.

This game could have meant a lot for the Celtics. This was a statement game. The Rockets are the currently the best team in the NBA and a win would have made Boston 2-0 against them this year. Now, the C’s go home with a bad taste in their mouth.

Before I get into too much, let’s get into the Four Leaf Clovers from last night’s game.

Is it June yet?

If nothing else, this game should show fans why they should have no doubts about the Celtics in the playoffs. They just went toe-to-toe with the best team in the NBA. Are you still worried about Miami or Indiana in the first round? I don’t think so. Even for the rest of the East, Kyrie Irving could outperform any player on any team besides LeBron James. I’ll see you in the Eastern Conference Finals (at least).

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Also, no one can change my opinion that the Celtics in the NBA Finals against any Western opponent would be the most entertaining Finals scenario. Do you want to see LeBron lose to the Warriors again? How about LeBron losing to the Rockets and then joining them? Or maybe the Raptors, if they can make it past the first round, get swept? Nope, the Celtics can compete more than any team in the East.

Moose and the Mook Dog

If you can think back to when the Celtics were winning the game, you might remember excellent games by Greg Monroe and Marcus Morris. Monroe had his best game of the season, putting up 18 points and 6 rebounds. More consistent play like this would solidify him in the playoff rotation and give the Celtics another scorer off the bench.

Morris had 21 points and made some huge threes down the stretch. If the Celtics had won, Morris would have been the hero of the game. His three over James Harden in the fourth quarter felt like it swung the game.

Instead, the Celtics gave up the lead and the game. Enough with the positives, here is why Boston lost in one of the biggest games of the year.

Give the ball to Kyrie

Al Horford was having a pretty decent game until the last few minutes of the fourth. He was doing Al things, staying unnoticed and just being in the right spots. Then, out of the blue, he acted like he was Hakeem Olajuwon. On two straight possessions, Kyrie Irving did not touch the ball and Horford went 0-2. In critical moments like these, Kyrie is the answer.

I don’t want to criticize Horford too much because this is a one time thing, but his -22 tonight was unbelievable. Kyrie needs the ball there. By the time he got his chance, the game was almost over and only a miracle could save the Celtics.

Another note on Horford: he has not been playing well since the All-Star break. He has never been the guy to stuff the stat sheet, but his numbers in the four games post-break are worrisome. Take a look: 7.2 PTS, 5.6 REB, 3 AST, 31 FG%, 36 3PT%. Ouch.

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Hopefully this is just a lull.

Rebounding collapse

Without a doubt, the Celtics lost this game because of the stretch in the fourth quarter when the Rockets got every loose ball and rebound. For what seemed like ten straight possessions, the Rockets scored on a second chance. I don’t even want to look, but the Rockets must have had 15-20 second chance points. A team that good capitalizes when you give them 2, 3, or 4 chances, especially when you go down and get just one shot.

The Celtics showed promise but got outplayed by a better team when it mattered. They made the winning shots and plays to win. However, this was not a moral victory. If this team truly has NBA Finals aspirations, they get at least one of those rebounds. They put the team away with just one more shot. Al Horford finds Kyrie for a couple more looks. Like the Kyrie Irving layup or Marcus Smart fadeaway, the Celtics were close, but not quite there yet.

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What’s Next?

The Celtics are in Chicago on Monday for a “rematch” against the Bulls. A win should be guaranteed.