The host Celtics look to match their longest winning streak of the season Tuesday night against the scuffling Houston Rockets, who have surprisingly thrived in Boston of late.
After dropping five straight Feb. 15-22, the Celtics (19-17) have since turned a corner. Scoring just 90.9 points per game this season, Boston has averaged 102.5 in winning four in a row.
Leading the Eastern Conference with 10.2 assists per contest, Rondo has done it all over that stretch. Five days after recording 15 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists during a 102-96 win over Milwaukee, Rondo had 18, a career-high 17 and 20, respectively, during Sunday’s 115-111 overtime win over New York.
“I know we’re all in this together, but it’s great when he takes over like that,” coach Doc Rivers said. “He’s the smartest point guard I’ve ever been around. He’s a brilliant player like that.”
Rondo became the first player to record a triple-double with at least 17 in each category since Hall of Famer Magic Johnson, who had 24 points, 17 assists and 17 rebounds on April 18, 1989.
The Celtics have climbed into seventh place in the East during their winning streak and now lead the eighth-place Knicks by 1 1/2 games.
“It was a big win for us,” Rondo said. “We’re trying to get a little separation.”
Paul Pierce also came up big Sunday, matching a season-high with 34 points - including a 3-pointer with 4.9 seconds left in regulation.
Rondo and Pierce were, in contrast, limited to a combined 14 points on 4-of-21 shooting during a 93-77 loss at Houston (21-17) last March 18. The Celtics have dropped three straight in this series overall and eight of 10 versus the Rockets at home.
Boston, however, has won eight of 10 at TD Garden and could be facing Houston at just the right time. The Rockets suffered their third consecutive defeat Sunday, falling 105-103 to the Los Angeles Clippers in overtime.
“We had some opportunities, we just didn’t take advantage,” said Rockets coach and former Celtics star Kevin McHale, who won three NBA championships with Boston.
“When you have a (good) team like that on the ropes, you just can’t have any mistakes and we gave away a couple down the stretch and it hurt us.”
There were 20 ties and 24 lead changes Sunday, but the Rockets were outrebounded for the 10th consecutive game and ultimately came up short. Houston has been outrebounded by an average of 12.0 boards during its skid.
“Both teams were playing well,” said Kevin Martin, who missed what would have been the game-winning 3 with one second left in OT. “I think that’s why it hurts the most. We have been harping over coming out and setting a tone, effort-wise. We did everything right, except for one thing.”
Martin, who had a season-high 35 points Friday during a 117-105 loss to Denver, finished with 25 on 6-of-22 from the field.
Houston, which opens a five-game road trip Tuesday, has been outscored by 13.3 points per contest in losing three straight in opposing arenas.