Celtics expecting the Rockets' best shot tonight

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BOSTON -- The Celtics have had more than their share of games that for the most part, didn’t look like wins-in-the-making for long stretches.

But when it comes to matchups against the NBA’s elite, they manage to do more than just compete. They manage to emerge victorious.

That is the ultimate goal tonight when hosting the Houston Rockets (25-7), owners of the NBA’s second-best record.

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Right behind them?

That would be the Celtics (28-10), who are coming off a 102-91 win at Charlotte on Wednesday. It was a game in which they led by as many as 20, saw the lead chopped down to a single point (76-75) going in the fourth, but then surged ahead and secured their 14th double-digit victory this season.

One of the keys to Boston’s success this season has been its ability to successfully utilize the 3-point shot. The Celtics are pretty good at this, actually.

But Houston is the best, easily. In the past few years the Rockets have put on a 3-point shooting display unlike anything the NBA has ever seen.

They averaged an NBA-record 14.4 made 3-pointers per game last season. This year they’re even better, upping their long-range success rate to 15.9.

Despite some ups and downs lately on defense, the Celtics still remain one of the best when it comes to defending the 3-point shot. They come into tonight’s game allowing 8.9 made three-pointers per game, which is second only to Portland (8.6).

And Boston opponents are shooting just 34.6 percent from 3-point range this season, the fourth-best 3-point shooting defense in the league.

Meanwhile, the Rockets have been a middle of the pack team when it comes to defending the 3-point shot, which, as we know, is a big part of the Celtics’ offense as well.

Houston has allowed opponents to shoot 36.7 percent from 3-point range this season, which ranks 17th in the league.

And when it comes to 3-pointers made per game, the Rockets are once again near the middle of the NBA pecking order, allowing 10.5 made three-pointers per game, which ranks 14th in the league.  

No matter how you come at this game, it’s clear that the 3-point shot will be a major factor. The Rockets are going to try and do what has worked for them most of this season, which is to keep on firing from long range as much as possible. Meanwhile, the Celtics have to take a more balanced approach with its play.

There’s no denying how important the 3-point shot has been to Boston’s success this season. But a key to that success has been the Celtics’ ability to either drive-and-kick for 3-pointers, or work the ball inside to Al Horford and let him decide the best course of action . . . whether it be a strong move to score in the paint, or pass to a teammate on the perimeter.

Regardless of what the Celtics do offensively, the greatest challenge lies tonight for them in how they defend an explosive  team led by James Harden, the league’s top scorer at 32.4 points per game.

And of course, the scheduling gods didn’t give the Celtics any breaks, either. They come into tonight’s matchup for their 39th game of the season – the first team to get there while they face a Houston squad that has played six fewer games and hasn’t had a game since Christmas Day. So you know they'll  clearly be the more rested squad.

To Al Horford, none of that really matters when facing a team as good as the Rockets.

“It’s tough, period,” Horford said of facing Houston. “We’re excited about the challenge. It’ll be a fun game.”

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