Rockets soar past Celtics, 101-89

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Rockets soar past Celtics, 101-89

HOUSTON The Boston Celtics are tripped up on the first leg of their Texas two-step by the Houston Rockets who used a strong third quarter surge to take control before handing the C's a 101-89 loss.

The Rockets were led by James Harden's 21 points in addition to Greg Smith chipping in 20 points off the bench. Boston's Paul Pierce had a team-high 18 points while Rajon Rondo tallied 15 points and 13 assists.

Boston (12-10) doesn't have much time to think about what went wrong against the Rockets (11-11), not with a road game at Western conference power San Antonio Saturday night.

Houston for the most part owned the second half of this game, and with it came away with their second straight victory under head coach and former Celtic Kevin McHale who returned to the team recently after the death of his daughter.

The strong play by Boston in the second quarter was wiped out quickly in the third as the Rockets opened the quarter with a 20-9 run to take a 63-54 lead.

A 3-point play by Rondo made it a 63-57 game, but it was clear that the game's momentum had taken a major swing in favor of the home team.

Houston's start was fueled by their ability to score in transition. After tallying a total of 12 fast-break points in the first half, it took less than six minutes for them to register six fast-break points - equal to their average in the first two quarters of play. They would finish the game with 25 fast-break points compared to 11 for Boston.

For too many stretches of play, Boston looked very much like a team that still hadn't quite recovered from a double overtime thriller in defeating Dallas on Wednesday.

Houston is the youngest team in the NBA and looked a step (or two, or three or ) quicker than Boston most of the first quarter.

Even with a lineup change designed to bolster Boston's defense - Courtney Lee in for Jason Terry - the Celtics still had trouble keeping the Rockets from getting out in transition.

Boston tried to go to Kevin Garnett early, but Houston's Omer Asik did a nice job of not allowing Garnett to get too deep in the post while also contesting his perimeter jumpers which heavily factored in Garnett missing five of his first six shots from the field.

Garnett finished with 14 points and five rebounds with a large chunk of his points coming while guarded by Smith.

Houston led by as many as 13 points in the first, but the Celtics chipped away at Houston's lead to cut Boston's lead after the first quarter down to 27-19.

Boston played the Rockets to a near standstill during the first four or five minutes of the second quarter, which isn't a good thing when you're facing the kind of deficit they were looking.

But that soon changed as the Celtics began to string together defensive stops and timely baskets like the wide open corner 3-pointer by Jason Terry to tie the game at 32.

Following another stop, Rondo drove into the lane for a lay-up to give the Celtics their first lead of the game with 6:10 to play in the half.

It was all part of an 18-2 Celtics run in the quarter that eventually ended with Boston leading 45-43 at the half.

Knicks' Noah suspended 20 games by NBA for drug policy violation

Knicks' Noah suspended 20 games by NBA for drug policy violation

NEW YORK - Joakim Noah of the New York Knicks has been suspended 20 games without pay for violating the league’s anti-drug policy.

The NBA announced the suspension Saturday, saying Noah tested positive for Selective Androgen Receptor Modulator LGD-4033 – something that can be found in over-the-counter supplements.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports first reported the suspension.

Noah has not played since Feb. 4 and was likely to miss the Knicks’ final 10 games this season because of a knee injury. The NBA said Noah’s suspension will begin with the ”first NBA regular season or playoff game for which he is eligible and physically able to play.”

Noah is in the first year of a four-year, $72 million contract. He and the Knicks (27-45) have been a disappointment this season. He averaged 5.0 points and 8.7 rebounds in 46 games this season, and has been limited to 75 games over the past two seasons.

Haggerty: Legacies on the line at edge of another Bruins collapse

Haggerty: Legacies on the line at edge of another Bruins collapse

BRIGHTON, Mass – Let’s start with the straight fact that it’s asinine, apologist drivel to let the Bruins off the hook, and perpetuate an off-the-mark myth there isn’t enough talent on the B's roster to be a playoff hockey team.

They are middle-of-the-road in the talent department to be sure, and the roster depth clearly isn’t what it was in their elite years, as the Bruins balance an aging core group with an influx of youthful talent from the next generation. But this is also a proud, talented group with one of the best all-around centers in the NHL in Patrice Bergeron, a former Norris Trophy winner and future Hall of Fame defenseman in Zdeno Chara, a legitimate Hart Trophy candidate and in-his-prime All-Star left winger in Brad Marchand, an emerging 20-year-old offensive superstar in David Pastrnak and a former Vezina Trophy winning goaltender still in his prime in Tuukka Rask.

That doesn’t even mention high-end players David Krejci, David Backes and Torey Krug that are game-changing talents in their own right.

Combine that with the other players on the Bruins roster and this is a team interspersed with proud Stanley Cup winning players and enough talent to still take care of business in the final eight games and punch their playoff ticket. Winning a Cup in 2011 can never be taken away from Chara, Krejci, Bergeron, Marchand, Rask and Adam McQuaid, and neither can the seven straight seasons in the playoffs under Claude Julien.

But there’s a danger now of some late-in-the-game tarnish on Black and Gold legacies for some of those distinguished, proud players if they once again collapse down the stretch this season and miss the playoffs for the third year in a row with a late-season nosedive. Four consecutive regulation losses have cast doubt into everything for the Bruins and roused all the same old uncomfortable questions from the past three years.

Bergeron and Marchand need to find their best games and dominate the way elite players do in big-game situations like Saturday night vs. the Isles. Pastrnak, Brandon Carlo and Frank Vatrano need to show they're ready for the playoffs.Rask needs to finally show he's ready to shine as a No. 1 goalie and lead his team to victory in a big game rather than buckle under weighty pressure. 

“This is their legacy, those guys. They are Stanley Cup champions and they missed last year. Each year we talk about writing our own story, and I believe that because guys come and go,” said coach Bruce Cassidy. “But generally there is a core group of guys and it’s their legacy. I’m sure they want to reach the playoffs and get back to being a Stanley Cup contender every year.

“That’s what they want and to a man I’m sure they would tell you that. I do believe that they believe it’s different [this season]. Until you change the course of your results, those questions are going to come. We have to change the results to make then go away. One week of not getting results that we want doesn’t mean we’re panicking, but we do understand what’s at stake. We want to be playing in April and May.”

If the Bruins can’t pull out a win on Saturday night against the Islanders, who just pushed even with them at 82 points on the season, then their playoff lives will no longer be under their own control anymore. It will become another late-season choke job by a team that will have its character and courage questioned. The highs of six years ago will be matched by the bitter lows of the past three seasons.

People won’t talk about a scrappy, little underdog Bruins team that just couldn’t get over the hump once again. Instead, they’ll lament a formerly proud, tough-minded group of hockey players that somehow turned into NHL tomato cans all too willing to play the victim once the going got tough late in the regular season.

That’s no way to go out if you’ve ever had your name etched on Lord Stanley’s Cup, and the Bruins that know better should be taking that to heart right now.