HOUSTON – Even Kyrie Irving couldn’t help but chuckle at the absurdity of his admission. The Boston Celtics’ All-Star point guard is impossibly bad at intentionally missing free throws.

Irving twice botched intentional misses in the final five seconds of Saturday’s game – once inadvertently banking in a free throw then completely missing the rim on another – as the Houston Rockets escaped with a 123-120 triumph at the Toyota Center, Houston’s 15th consecutive victory.

“I suck at them,” said Irving. “I’ve been probably up there five [or] four times and I’ve failed every single time at trying to miss on purpose. I don’t know. Don’t ask me. I keep telling my teammates, ‘I’m not good at missing.’ I’m not.”

Kyrie’s free throws don’t go as plannedIn two critical situations, Kyrie Irving botches two free throw attempts.
When his comments elicited laughter from reporters, Irving tugged on his baseball cap and pleaded, “I’m serious. Just to think that I have to become better [at missing] in order for our team to have a chance at the end of the game, that I have to miss on purpose. … I don’t know. Sounds asinine. But it’s pissing me off right now to think about it.”

The Celtics did themselves no favors over the final 96 seconds of play, turning the ball over three times and repeatedly hindering their own effort to try to steal the win.

Boston had been up three when Terry Rozier hauled in a rebound following a James Harden miss. The Rockets blitzed Rozier from both sides and P.J. Tucker was able to poke the ball free. Chris Paul corralled the loose ball and quickly fired to Trevor Ariza on the wing, who hit a 3-pointer to tie the game with 1:33 to play.

As Boston looked to regain the lead, Ariza picked off an Irving pass intended for Al Horford and broke out the other way. Ariza finished a tough layup over Irving as the Rockets took a 117-115 lead with 1:16 to go.

Ariza amped up after steal and go-ahead layupTrevor Ariza comes up with a steal, breaks away to the basket and scores a layup to put the Rockets ahead. Ariza then turns to the crowd and gets the fans pumped up.

Al Horford missed two clean looks then had a panicked turnover after going to the floor to claim a loose ball (an infuriated Brad Stevens believed he had called timeout before Horford coughed the ball up). Boston was forced to intentionally foul with 15 seconds to play in hopes a miss might allow it a chance to claw back.

Harden eventually missed with 7 seconds to go but the Rockets twice intentionally fouled Irving while up three in order to prevent a potential tying shot. Irving tried to go quick on two separate occasions in the final 5 seconds, but the first kicked hard off the glass and rattled in as Irving grabbed at his head in disbelief; the second slammed off the glass and didn’t hit the rim, a violation giving the Rockets the ball.

Boston still got a final gasp, but Marcus Smart’s desperation fadeaway 3-pointer at the buzzer – off a full-court heave from Marcus Morris – slammed off the rim.

Smart off the mark on game-tying 3-pointerWith 2.3 seconds left in the game and the Celtics down three, Marcus Morris sends the inbounds pass downcourt to Marcus Smart, who gets a good attempt off, but the ball bounces off the rim as the Rockets hold on.

“We did a great job of giving ourselves a chance to win — or a chance to tie and send it to overtime. Guys did an unbelievable job,” said Celtics coach Brad Stevens. “We put [big men Greg] Monroe and Al in there [to rebound the intentional misses]. One thing they are is overly big, and then we had guys crashing from the top.

“But it’s really hard for Kyrie to miss, which is why he’s so special.”

Added Irving: “I’ve just got to be able to do it. It’s as simple as that.”

James Harden had 26 points and 10 assists in Houston’s 15th straight win, a victory over the visiting Boston Celtics. Erik Williams/USA TODAY Sports
The Rockets haven’t had many nail-biters during their streak. Heck, this was only the fifth game this season decided by three points or fewer, matching the Golden State Warriors for the fewest in the league.

“It’s a huge step for us,” said Ariza. “We haven’t had many games like that this year. Tonight definitely proved to us that we can win in that style of basketball, a grind-it-out type of game.”

Paul battled foul trouble but made one of the night’s key plays by coming up with the ball before feeding Ariza for the tying shot.

“You’ve got to give [the Celtics] a lot of credit,” said Paul. “They played hard. They played well. That was a real good game. You’re welcome, ABC.”

Rockets steal it in the end

The Boston Celtics had a 113-107 lead with 4:01 left to play. But the Celtics turned the ball over four times, all steals by the Houston Rockets, and that fueled a 16-7 Houston run to close the game and allow the Rockets to win their 15th consecutive game.

Points off turnovers 0 7
Steals 0 4
TOs 4 0
HOU T. Ariza: 5 points, 2/4 FGs, 2 steals, 1/3 3s in last 4:01

Ten years ago this month, the Celtics came to Houston and, as part of the team’s march to a 17th title, ended the Rockets’ 22-game winning streak. It was the only time in the Celtics’ storied history that they had ever ended a team’s winning streak of 14 or more games.

Despite a monster performance from a bench that totaled a season-high 67 points on Saturday night, Boston wasn’t able to add a second streak-bust to their career resume.

Still, Saturday’s game featured a playoff-like intensity, and Boston players were quizzed about what a Finals matchup might be like between these two teams, especially after the thriller they engaged in when the Rockets visited Boston in December. That night, Marcus Smart drew a pair of offensive fouls on Harden over the final 7 seconds to help Boston rally from 26 down for a win.

“Tough games. We both have really good teams,” said Morris. “Every game came down to the end so I think playoffs would be no different. I think it would be a dogfight throughout.”

Morris scored a team-high 21 points for Boston off the bench, while Irving finished with 18 points on 6-of-17 shooting.

James Harden scored 26 points but on 6-of-18 shooting. But he added 10 assists, 7 rebounds, and 5 steals and was plus-21 in plus/minus during his 38 minutes of action.

The early part of the fourth quarter featured Morris and Eric Gordon (game-high 29 points) engaging in an unexpected shootout. Morris scored 11 points over 2:34, hitting a trio of 3-pointers and adding a dunk. The Celtics might have run away with the game if not for Gordon, who hit three treys of his own in little more than two minutes.

But it was Tucker’s steal that might have ultimately changed the complexion of the game considering how Boston had a chance to go up two possessions.

Asked if this is the type of game the Rockets might need to grind out in the postseason, Tucker said: “No question. You have to win a few of those to win a championship.”

This is now the longest winning streak of the season for the Rockets, who had a 14-game streak earlier this season.

Courtesy: ESPN.com


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