BOSTON In a bit of role reversal, it was Boston's bench that set the tone in Friday's 103-91 win over Houston and the starters who came to the rescue in the fourth quarter.
After Houston cut Boston's lead to just 83-81 in the fourth, all but wiping out a comfortable lead built primarily on the strong play of the backups, the C's starters went on a 15-3 run to push the lead back to double digits, 98-84, with 3:06 to play.
The Celtics (19-17), winners of five in a row now, never allowed the Rockets to come close to being a serious threat for the remainder of the game.
Boston's second unit for the second time in as many games played a pivotal - and dare we say, dominant - role in helping the C's extend their season best winning streak to five in a row.
Jared Sullinger continues to show why a number of teams regret not selecting him in June's NBA draft, red flag or not.
His scoring and work around the basket has given the Celtics a dimension that no other player on this roster provides. He finished with 14 points and 11 rebounds for his second straight double-double.
And Courtney Lee, who looked tentative and at times just bad at the start of the season, has been a defensive spark plug and a much more efficient scorer. Like Sullinger, he too had 14 points to go with three assists.
Throw in solid production from Jeff Green (9 points, two rebounds, two assists) and you have the kind of high-impact rotation off the bench that the C's envisioned at the start of the season.
"Our bench was huge," said C's coach Doc Rivers. "I mean, that's what stretched the game, that stretch in the first and through most of the second quarter when we left them out there. They're just playing free together, they're defending. You know, one of the big differences is they're defending now."
And to get it done defensively against the league's highest-scoring team, speaks volumes as to how far the Celtics have come since these two met on Dec. 14 and the Rockets easily won, 101-89.
"We weren't playing the way we wanted to," Bradley said of last month's loss in Houston. "We had flashes of playing the way we want to play every now and then."
But the questions about Boston's consistency - at least for now - can be laid to rest.
They have strung together enough victories of late doing it with defense, to make one believe that maybe just maybe, this team has at the very least turned the corner from their up-and-down, inconsistent ways to start the season.
And beating the red-hot Rockets does qualify as a quality victory despite them being the youngest team in the NBA.
They came into Friday's game having won 12 of their last 16 games. And against the Eastern Conference this season, Houston had a gaudy 14-2 record.
But none of that mattered on Friday, not with the Celtics playing the kind of defense from tip-off to the final horn that positioned them for yet another victory.
After scoring six of the game's first eight points, the Celtics were on the short end of a 15-2 run that had the look and feel of Houston's win over Boston last month.
But then Sullinger entered the game.
And things were never quite the same for either team.
Sullinger's hustle around the boards along with scoring positioned the C's to not just get back into the game but actually take over.
"He rebounded the ball well for them, he made a couple tough shots, a couple turn-arounds, he played well for them, but he has been," said Rockets head coach and former Celtics great Kevin McHale.
Although his play was dominant, but the play of Lee, Green and Jason Terry (3 points, 4 assists, 3 rebounds) was also key.
While it's not unusual for a second unit to come in and rescue the starters when they struggle, that wasn't really the case on Friday.
Boston's first group didn't play poorly. Not with Paul Pierce scoring a team-high 23 points to go with six rebounds, or Kevin Garnett tallying 17 points and eight hard-earned rebounds.
It's just that Boston's second unit for the most of the night, was better.
And when you're building towards becoming a complete team, it's a good thing to have nights like that from time to time.
"They've been huge for us in this winning streak," Pierce said. "They've been not only able to come in and sustain a lead, they've been able to come in and push the lead."