3-18-08 -- It took the NBA’s best team to end the Houston Rockets’ 22-game winning streak.
Kevin Garnett and the Boston Celtics stopped the Rockets’ remarkable run in emphatic fashion Tuesday night, pulling away in the second half for a 94-74 victory.
Garnett scored 22 points and Paul Pierce added 20 as Boston handed Houston its first loss since a 97-89 defeat to Utah on Jan. 27. The Rockets then put together the NBA’s second-longest winning streak, which ended 11 victories shy of the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers, who won 33 in a row.
“Our names will be mentioned there with Hall of Fame people,” said Houston point guard Rafer Alston. “We have something to tell our kids.”
It was only Houston’s second loss in 28 games and its fourth since a 97-93 loss in Boston on Jan. 2, a game Tracy McGrady sat out with a knee injury. The Rockets also lost for the first time in 11 games since Yao Ming went out with a season-ending foot injury on Feb. 26.
The Rockets were finally doomed by poor shooting and mistakes that they overcame during their streak with hustle and solid defense.
“I’m too close to the situation right now to really appreciate,” Rockets forward Shane Battier said. “When I’m old and gray and can’t dribble this basketball anymore, I think I’ll appreciate it. Right now, we’re still in a playoff run and have got some dogs barking at our heels.”
Boston blanketed McGrady all night, holding Houston’s remaining All-Star to eight points on 4-for-11 shooting. Other Rockets had routinely picked up the slack during the seven-week run whenever McGrady struggled, but the Celtics never let that happen.
The Rockets scored a season-low 34 points in the second half on 11-for-33 shooting.
“It’s not disappointing,” McGrady said. “It’s a hell of a team over there. They outplayed us. I’ve never seen a defense like that. I mean, if they play defense like that, night in and night out, the NBA is in trouble because that was defense at its finest.”
Luis Scola scored 15 for Houston, which had a 15-game home streak snapped. Only the 1985-86 Rockets, who won 20 straight at The Summit, had a longer home-court streak in franchise history.
Reserve Leon Powe added 21 points for the Celtics, who’ve won 13 of their last 14 games, the last three without All-Star guard Ray Allen, who’s out with a sore left ankle.
Boston beat San Antonio 93-91 on Monday night and Garnett said the Celtics were all business in their approach to Tuesday’s game.
“There wasn’t really a lot of talking on the bus last night after the win,” Garnett said. “We got on the plane, it was real subtle. There wasn’t a lot of talking and I know when we’re like that, we’re focused.”
The Rockets still have one more streak to protect—they’ll go for their 13th straight road win in New Orleans on Wednesday night. The end of the big streak hadn’t quite sunk in moments after this loss.
“I feel worse for the fans than I do for us,” Battier said. “We’ll be all right. We’ve got a game in 20 hours. We’ll be out there trying to win another game. For the fans, they really were captivated by the streak and we hope they still get behind us and cheer us on.”
Houston beat the Lakers on Sunday to take over sole possession of first place in the Western Conference and set up Tuesday’s showdown between conference leaders.
They were tied at 40 at halftime, but Boston took control in the third quarter, led by its All-Star duo.
Garnett swished a jumper from the top of the key 15 seconds out of the break and Pierce sank a 3-pointer on Boston’s next trip down, the start of an 18-5 spurt. The Rockets missed eight of their first 10 shots out of the break and stopped getting the bounces that had always gone their way throughout the streak.
“I loved the way we played defense tonight,” Garnett said. “We had a lot of energy.”
Even when Houston got aggressive, it backfired.
With 3:18 left in the third quarter, Tony Allen drove the baseline and McGrady and Scola both jumped to block him. McGrady blocked the ball, but Scola whacked hit Allen and sent him hard to the court. Referee Scott Foster called a flagrant foul on Scola as Allen lay on the floor for several minutes. He finally got up and hit two free throws to put Boston up 64-52.
McGrady missed a jumper in the final seconds of the third quarter and Battier was there for the rebound, but tipped it right to James Posey, who started a fast break the other way.
“All good things must come to an end,” McGrady said.
The Celtics outscored Houston 32-16 in the third quarter and built a 72-56 lead, the largest deficit the Rockets had faced since Boston had them down 20 in their first meeting. Houston went 7-for-16 from the field with six turnovers in the decisive quarter.
Boston pushed the lead over 20 early in the fourth quarter. During a timeout, the crowd stood and applauded as a video on the scoreboard finished with a shot of the arena and the line: “Where 22 in a row happens.”
The rest of the game was a cold dose of reality.
McGrady left with 8:45 left and fans slowly filed out of the arena. With 2:09 left, Garnett drove down the line and hammered home a one-handed dunk, then added a milder throwdown on Boston’s next possession.
The loss dropped Houston back into a first-place tie with the Lakers in the West. The Hornets are a half-game behind heading into Wednesday’s matchup.
Boston coach Doc Rivers said he would re-evaluate Ray Allen’s injury on Wednesday. Rivers said Allen could “possibly” play in Dallas on Thursday. … The Celtics have won seven straight road games and all seven meetings against teams from the Southwest Division. … Former Rockets center Hakeem Olajuwon had a courtside seat for the second straight game. … Rockets rookie forward Carl Landry sat out for the sixth straight game with a bruised right knee. Landry will travel with the team to New Orleans for Wednesday’s game.