The last time the Boston Celtics visited Houston, they ended the Rockets’ franchise-record winning streak in March with a dominating defensive performance.
The Rockets, who’ve used a similar effort during a successful start to this season, won’t have to wait long for a chance to prove to the NBA champions that they’re an improved club.
Houston will look to move to 4-0 for the first time in 12 years on Tuesday when it hosts the Celtics, who are coming off a rare lopsided loss in their road opener.
Even though the Rockets had won 22 straight games—the second-longest run in NBA history—entering their meeting with the Celtics on March 18, they were without injured center Yao Ming for the 94-74 loss, one of Boston’s 66 victories last season.
“It’s not disappointing,” Houston guard Tracy McGrady said that night. “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.”
McGrady proved prescient as the Celtics captured their first title since 1986, while the Rockets were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by Utah. But with Yao healthy, defensive standout Ron Artest in Houston and the Rockets (3-0) cruising to start 2008-09, coach Rick Adelman’s team has bigger plans this season.
They’ve used Boston’s formula during the early going, holding a pair of visiting opponents under 80 points. In Saturday’s 89-77 win over Oklahoma City, the Rockets shot just 36 percent from the field but made up for it with a 27-of-31 performance at the line and a strong defensive effort.
Despite his team opening the season with three straight double-digit victories, Adelman wasn’t pleased with the offense on Saturday, when Artest was just 3-of-12 from the floor and Yao and McGrady were each 6-of-15.
“There was no activity and you have to play together as a team,” Adelman said. “We seemed to want to do everything off the dribble, with one guy dribbling and we weren’t setting picks. I don’t know if we were being lazy or what, but we just can’t play that way.”
Boston (2-1) also wasn’t at its best Saturday night, shooting 35 percent in a 95-79 loss at Indiana. The Celtics only lost three games by 10 points or more during the 2007-08 regular season, which began with eight straight victories, but their road woes continued in Indianapolis.
Their win over Houston last season was part of an eight-game road winning streak and a three-game road sweep of the Texas teams, but the Celtics began the postseason with six straight road losses and won the championship despite going 3-9 on the road.
Saturday’s performance didn’t look any better, as Paul Pierce shot 3-of-15 from the floor and Boston turned the ball over 24 times.
“I consider us to be one of the best defensive teams in the league, and tonight, we were challenged, fully,” forward Kevin Garnett said.
The Rockets hope to do the same while jumping out to their best start in more than a decade. Houston also won its first three last season, but lost the fourth game, and hasn’t been 4-0 since 1996-97, when it won six straight to start a 57-win season.
In addition to their home loss to the Celtics last season, the Rockets also lost 97-93 in Boston on Jan. 2 while McGrady was out with an injury. Garnett averaged 24 points and 10 rebounds in the season sweep, totaling five blocked shots and shooting 56 percent in those games.