BOSTON The Boston Celtics' 97-92 overtime win over the Houston Rockets Tuesday night was filled with missed layups, missed free throws and some untimely turnovers in ways seldom seen - and Doc Rivers couldn't have been any happier.
"We're starting to play good basketball and we're starting to win basketball games when we don't play good basketball," the Celtics coach said. "And that may be more important."
Boston appeared to have the game under control in the closing seconds of regulation, but the ball seemed to slip out of Rajon Rondo's hands as he missed an uncontested breakaway layup. Moments later, the Rockets were able to tie the game and force overtime.
The C's had more miscues that came out of nowhere in the overtime period, such as Kevin Garnett - an 84.3 percent free-throw shooter - missing a pair, and Paul Pierce turning the ball over on an eight-second violation.
"That was a crazy game," Rivers said. "The whole game - it wasn't even just the ending."
Said Rockets forward Luis Scola: "The fact that we are in overtime is very lucky. What are the chances that Rondo misses a wide open layup when nobody's close to him? The fact that we played overtime was a bonus, a present. We lost the game before that. We could have won in overtime, but the reality is that we lost before."
And now the Celtics' focus will immediately shift to an Atlantic Division matchup in Philadelphia Wednesday night with first place in the division at stake. But before we get too ahead of ourselves, let's review some of the factors highlighted prior to the Celtics' victory, which extended their winning streak to five in a row.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Although the Celtics are scoring more with Brandon Bass in the starting lineup, the increase in scoring has a lot to do with their defense. The C's are forcing more turnovers, which has allowed them to get out in transition and get easy baskets. For the season, Boston is forcing 15.1 turnovers per game. During their current four-game winning streak, the C's have increased their forced turnover number to 17.3 per game.
WHAT WE SAW: For the third straight game, Boston forced its opponent to commit 20 or more turnovers. The Celtics were able to generate 19 points off of the 20 miscues by the Rockets. Boston's defense was particularly effective in the fourth quarter, after falling behind by double-digits. "The defensive energy picked up," said Ray Allen. "When they went on a run we weren't getting any stops, they kind of dictated how the game was being played, and we changed that by pushing them away from the basket. And everything that they had was contested, and we got rebounds and were able to run and score."
MATCHUP TO WATCH: Rajon Rondo vs. Kyle Lowry: While Lowry doesn't have the kind of media sizzle of a Jeremy Lin or Deron Williams, Rondo's defense of Lowry will have to be good. Lost in the Celtics' recent run of success has been the fact that all but one of the four point guards Rondo has faced (with the exception being Cleveland's Kyrie Irving) since returning from the All-Star break, have had subpar performances against the C's. And Lowry is having arguably his best NBA season, averaging 15.8 points, 7.3 assists and 5.3 rebounds per game.
WHAT WE SAW: Lowry became the latest victim of a Celtics defense that continues to make a non-factor of one point guard after another. Lowry had 18 points, but was just 4-for-17 from the field. He grabbed seven rebounds, but his seven assists were just one more than his six turnover total. "Night-in and night-out, it's going to be a good guard you face and try to contain them as much as possible," Rondo said.
PLAYER TO WATCH: The role of Ray Allen continues to fluctuate from one game to another. Some nights, he'll be looked upon to drive more to the basket. Other nights, he'll be needed to shoot. And then there was the win over the New York Knicks on Sunday, a game in which Allen was more of a decoy who set lots of picks. It'll be interesting to see how the Rockets approach defending Allen, and how Allen and the C's respond.
WHAT WE SAW: Once again, Ray Allen answers the call when the C's needed a clutch basket. His 3-pointer late in the fourth positioned the Celtics for the victory. And in the five-minute overtime period, only Paul Pierce (7 points) scored more than Allen who had 4 of his 21 points in the overtime period. "Ray is one of the best conditioned athletes in our league," said Boston's Keyon Dooling. "He puts the time in, he still does the same routine he's had for years and obviously, he's the greatest shooter in the history of the game. We wouldn't expect anything less from him."
STAT TO TRACK: If you see a 3-pointer go in tonight, cherish the moment because there probably won't be many made 3s tonight. The Boston Celtics defend the 3-point shot better than any team in the NBA, with opponents shooting just 30.2 percent on 3s against them. The Houston Rockets are literally right behind Boston in 3-point defense, with their opponents connecting on 31 percent of their 3-point tries.
WHAT WE SAW: Indeed, 3-point shots made were few and far between for both teams. Although Houston had more made 3s than the Celtics (five to four), Boston shot a slightly higher percentage in connecting on four of its 14 attempts (28.6 percent) compared to the Rockets' 5-for-19 (26.3 percent) shooting on 3s.