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Rockets' solid 2nd-half not enough in 116-107 loss to Celtics

POSTED: January 21, 2024 -- 11:25 p.m. CT

HOUSTON, TX (Toyota Center) -- Short-handed and on a second night of a back-to-back, the Houston Rockets lost 116-107 to the less short-handed Boston Celtics.

The Rockets (20-22) were without starters Fred VanVleet (lower back tightness) and Jabari Smith Jr (left ankle sprain) plus key reserves Tari Eason (left lower leg) and Jeff Green (left calf soreness).

With VanVleet out of the lineup, Rockets' rookie Amen Thompson got his first NBA start.

"My first NBA start. It's what I dreamed of my whole life," Thompson said in the locker room after the game. "Coach (Udoka) trusted me to start; and, I really appreciate it."

The Celtics (33-10) were without starting point guard Jrue Holiday (right elbow sprain) and veteran big man Al Horford (rest).

Houston's defense was slow to react to Boston's high screen action much of the first half which allowed Celtics center Kristaps Porzingis to get numerous three-point shot opportunities. After missing his first 2 threes, Porzingis heated up to make 4 of his next 6 threes in the half. Porzingis scored 20 points in the 17 first-half minutes.

When Porzingis wasn't hurting the Rockets, Boston's Derrick White hurt Houston. White made 7 of his 12 field goals for 16 first-half points. White also pulled down 9 rebounds in the first half. Celtics forward Sam Hauser nailed 3 three-pointers in his 17 first-half minutes.

Boston made 10 three-pointers in the first half (24 attempts) compared to 5 made threes for Houston (15 attempts). Houston trailed 70-55 at halftime.

The Celtics out-rebounded the Rockets 28-19 in the opening half and outscored the Rockets a whopping 19-0 on second chance points.

Ironically, the Rockets did a solid defending Boston's 2 All-Stars: Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown combined for just 13 points on 5 for 15 field goal shooting.

"Especially early, I think we were solid on them (Brown and Tatum) but let everybody else get loose," Ime Udoka, Rockets Head Coach said after the game.

Houston's defense was much, much better in the third quarter. Boston made only 8 of 24 shots (33.3 fg%) while Houston made 11 of 25 from the floor. Alperen Sengun scored 6 points in the third while Dillon Brooks and Amen Thompson each scored 5 points.

The Rockets got within 6 twice in the third but trailed by 10 (90-80) heading to the fourth quarter.

Boston led by 11 (93-82) before Rockets' rookie Cam Whitmore and Brooks hit back-to-back threes. Brooks followed with a fast break layup to bring Houston within 3 (93-90) with 9:18 left in the 4th. The Celtics pushed the lead to 6 and maintained that lead nearly 3 minutes before stretching it to 12 (111-99) with 2:01 to go in the 4th.

Sengun scored 6 in a row for Houston; but, it wasn't enough to overcome the 12 point deficit.

Sengun finished the game with 24 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists, marking his first triple-double of the season and the third of his career.

"Played hard; stayed in the game. We couldn't end it good; but, I think we did a great job tonight," Sengun said after the game.

Brooks led the Rockets with 25 points. He scored a total of 18 the two games prior in his return from a right oblique strain.

Brooks liked the Rockets' effort and performance in the second half.

"We played hard. We played together," said Brooks. "Even when we were down 15, we found a way to cut it down to three. It's a good thing to know we have it in us; and, we're able to play at that level against one of the best teams in the NBA.

"So, take a little bit of that and bring it to the first half for our next game against Portland."

In his first NBA start, Amen Thompson recorded career-highs of 15 points and 14 rebounds along with 5 assists. It is his second double-double; he had 10 points and 10 boards at Boston on Jan. 13. The 14 rebounds are the most by a Rockets rookie guard since Steve Francis had 17 vs. Golden State on Jan. 27, 2000.

"I'm getting more and more opportunities and my confidence is going to keep going up."


Kristaps Porzingis had 32 points and 5 blocks while hitting 6 3-pointers. It marks the first time in franchise history that a Celtic has recorded at least 30 points, 5 blocks and 3 three-point field goals made in a single game. It is third time Porzingis has posted those numbers in his career (once with Dallas; once with New York); the rest of the NBA has accounted for seven games all-time. Raef LaFrentz (twice) is the only other player to have done so multiple times.


The Rockets' next game is Wednesday, January 24, at home, versus the Portland Trail Blazers. Tip is set for 7 p.m. Central Time.

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