By A. Sherrod Blakely
BOSTON The Houston Rockets continue to do what few teams have been able to do consistently - win in Boston.
The Rockets, fueled by the hot-shooting of their starting backcourt, handed the Celtics a 108-102 loss Monday night at TD Garden.
Boston (28-9) has now lost two in a row, and continued a trend of losing to the Rockets at home.
Houston, led by guards Aaron Brooks (game-high 24 points) and Kyle Lowry (17 points, 8 assists), defeated Boston for the third straight time at the Garden.
But history had nothing to do with what went wrong for the Celtics on Monday.
"I told our guys, I thought overall it was probably our worst defensive effort in three, four years as far as overall effort," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers.
It wasn't so much that Houston was making so many shots.
More to Rivers' point, it was the fact that those baskets came with little to no resistance by the Celtics.
"We're a defensive-minded group and for some reason over the last couple games, it's just not happening," said Paul Pierce. "I don't know. I mean, everyone's got to look themselves in the mirror, check their selves at the door and just figure this out, get through this little skid we're on."
Houston began to pull away in the second half as it connected on 21 of their 34 shot attempts, or 61.8 percent.
Following the game, the Celtics locker room was like a ghost town with few players sticking around to explain what happened.
Truth be told, they didn't need to.
The numbers don't lie.
Houston got whatever shot it wanted, with very little fight from the Celtics.
When the Rockets missed, they grabbed rebounds.
It was a thorough beating, for sure.
The disappointment could be spread across the entire Celtics roster, but Rivers was especially down on the play of his starters.
"It's on the starters; it's not on the second unit," Rivers said.
Ray Allen agreed.
"We the starters gave the Rockets too much confidence early," Allen said.
At halftime, Rivers reminded his starters that with key players such as Delonte West (right wrist), Kevin Garnett (right calf strain) and Kendrick Perkins (right knee) still out, it's imperative that they play well in order for the second unit to have a shot at success.
"It shouldn't be the other way around," Rivers said. "And so, just a really disappointing game for us."
Using the fact that the Celtics were short-handed is an excuse that Rivers and his players aren't willing to put out there.
It's not like the Rockets haven't had their share of major injuries to deal with.
In addition to not having Yao Ming, the Rockets were also without leading scorer Kevin Martin (wrist) and Brad Miller (knee) on Monday.
"We need to really take advantage of games where their best player isn't playing, guys coming off injury," Pierce said.
As poorly as the Celtics played for most of the night, they still seemed to have a fighter's chance in the game's closing moments.
The C's fell behind by as many as 12 points in the fourth quarter, but found themselves within 106-102 with 18.5 seconds to play when Rajon Rondo forced an eight-second backcourt violation ... or so we thought.
The officials got together briefly, and said that an inadvertent whistle was blown, and it was Houston's ball.
That would be the last gasp the C's had at stealing a game that, frankly, they didn't play well enough to win.
To say that it was just one of those games, is to diminish the potential rippling effect that losing to sub-.500 team at home, can have on this team.
And to blame it on not having Kevin Garnett?
That's letting these guys off the hook way too easy.
"It's mental," Rivers said. "This game had nothing to do with Kevin Garnett. Kevin Garnett didn't play, and it had nothing to do with it."
A. Sherrod Blakely can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Sherrod on Twitter at http:twittter.comsherrodbcsn.