If the Boston Celtics gained any confidence - especially at home - during an impressive early March stretch, they may have lost some of it during their lackluster finish to the month.
The Celtics begin April by trying to avoid a third straight loss as they continue a six-game homestand Friday night against the banged-up and fading Houston Rockets.
After questions about the aging club’s durability arose during a 13-16 stretch between Dec. 27 and the end of February, the Celtics soothed some concerns by going 11-4 to begin March - a run that included a 94-87 win at Houston on March 19 and impressive victories over Dallas and Denver.
Boston (47-27) has taken a step back this week, however, suffering its worst home defeat of the season Sunday in a 94-73 loss to San Antonio. While the Celtics weren’t as bad Wednesday, they still fell 109-104 to visiting Oklahoma City.
“The game the other night we played so bad. It happens,” coach Doc Rivers said. “It’s tough when you play well and lose.”
The Celtics have not played as well at home, where they went 70-12 over the last two seasons. They fell to 23-14 at the TD Garden on Wednesday.
While Kevin Garnett(notes) complained about the officiating after the Thunder earned twice as many trips to the free throw line as Boston, it seems clear that the Celtics’ status as an elite defensive team has slipped.
Oklahoma City became the 15th opponent to shoot at least 50 percent from the field, something that happened 17 times over the previous two seasons.
“It’s a tough one to swallow. A team shoots 34 free throws to our 17 on our home floor,” Rivers said. “I thought we were attacking and we just didn’t get to the line.”
The Celtics have secured a third straight Atlantic Division title and are one game behind Atlanta for third place in the Eastern Conference with eight games left.
The Rockets (37-37) will be officially eliminated from playoff contention with their next loss or San Antonio win. The Spurs host Orlando on Friday.
Houston has sealed its fate by dropping five of six, losing 119-102 at San Antonio on Wednesday night. The Rockets played without high-scoring guard Kevin Martin(notes) (shoulder sprain) and defensive standouts Shane Battier(notes) (MCL sprain) and Jared Jeffries(notes) (strained Achilles’).
The Spurs took advantage, shooting 56.8 percent from the field. Houston’s last six opponents are averaging 106.8 points and shooting 50.8 percent.
“Our defense - not making excuses; it’s a fact of life - we’re not the same team that we were before,” coach Rick Adelman said. “We don’t have anyone at the basket that challenges anybody and we’re playing a lot of young guys. But that doesn’t mean we can’t get better.”
The Rockets had a different look when they won 89-85 at Boston on Jan. 7, 2009, ending the Celtics’ 13-game home winning streak. Six of the nine players who appeared in that game have since departed.