HOUSTON - The Celtics sent the hot Rockets back to earth last night.
The second-longest winning streak in NBA history - 22 games - ended when the Celtics brought down the Rockets, 94-74, at the
"Obviously, this was a good win for us," said Celtics forward Kevin Garnett, who had a double-double of 22 points and 11 rebounds. "This is one of the best accomplishments in sports. It's unbelievable, not just in basketball but in all sports. To do that is remarkable."
With their 13th win in 14 games, the Celtics pushed their NBA-best record to 54-13. They have won seven straight on the road. A night after winning at San Antonio, the Celtics improved to 14-2 in the second of back-to-back games. The Celtics are 3-0 on this five-game trip and improved their road record to 25-8.
"Someone had to do it, eventually," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "We happened to do it."
Houston star Tracy McGrady was held to 8 points on 4-of-11 shooting, and no one on his team scored more than 15. After the teams played to a 40-40 tie at halftime, Boston limited the Rockets to 33.3 percent shooting from the field, 23.1 percent from 3-point range, and outscored them, 54-34.
McGrady said it was the best defense he has seen in his illustrious 10-year career.
"All good things must come to an end," said McGrady, who was averaging 22 points. "It's not disappointing. It's a [heck] of a team there. They outplayed us.
"I've never seen defense like that. If they play defense like that night in and night out, then the NBA is in trouble because that defense was at its finest."
The Celtics were without Ray Allen (left ankle) for the third straight game. Rivers is hopeful that Allen can play tomorrow at Dallas and could definitely use him since his replacement, Tony Allen, could be out.
With 3:18 left in the third quarter last night, Tony Allen was fouled hard by Luis Scola as he took the ball to the basket. Allen hit his lower back as he fell, and he lay on the floor for a couple of minutes before slowly getting back up.
Scola was given a flagrant-1 technical, and Allen made both free throws to give Boston a 64-52 lead. Soon after, he was replaced by James Posey. Allen headed to the locker room early in the fourth quarter and didn't return.
"My lower back is pretty sore," Allen said. "I need to get some ice and treatment and a massage and hopefully I will be OK. The win makes it feel better."
There was no doubt that this game was highly anticipated.
TNT picked up the contest to televise nationally. Media from around the country braved bad travel conditions to make it to Houston. Rockets great Hakeem Olajuwon sat courtside (not far from Roger Clemens's attorney, Rusty Hardin).
Rockets guard Rafer Alston, known for talking trash, had recent run-ins with Hornets center Tyson Chandler and Lakers guard Sasha Vujacic. Add Rajon Rondo to his list of targets.
At the opening tap, as Alston tried to get position, he seemed to elbow Rondo in the neck. Rondo responded by pushing Alston. After several pushes, Rondo balled his fists at his side.
After being separated by a referee, Rondo and Alston were slapped with technicals. Nothing further ensued, but the crowd went wild. When Houston coach Rick Adelman told Alston to relax, he replied that he was trying to get in Rondo's head.
"It wasn't nothing," Rondo said. "He just pushed me and I pushed him back. That's it. There wasn't any other exchange. It's all over with."
A jumper by Leon Powe (21 points) with 9:57 left gave Boston a 21-point lead, 77-56. During a timeout with 8:45 left, Rockets fans began heading toward the exits, though those who remained cheered loudly in hopes of firing up their team.
But two free throws by Garnett gave Boston an 81-58 lead with 7:01 remaining that was too much to overcome.
Garnett applied the exclamation point with an emphatic dunk that gave the Celtics an 89-64 lead with 2:08 left. Shortly thereafter, during a Houston timeout, the Celtics celebrated wildly, with Sam Cassell yelling to a teammate, "Yeah, they wanted it!"
When the buzzer sounded and Houston's streak ended, the remaining Rockets fans gave the team a much-deserved standing ovation.
"You're not going to play a great game every night, and we didn't come out and play a great game," said Houston's Shane Battier. "There is a reason why Boston has the best record in the NBA. They're pretty darn good. You've got to play pretty well against them."
The Celtics completed an impressive feat by beating possibly the best two Western Conference teams on the road on back-to-back nights in San Antonio and Houston. Next up are two more tough West tests against Dallas and New Orleans.
"This is definitely a test for us," said Paul Pierce. "You're talking about the top teams in all of basketball. It doesn't get any easier as we go to Dallas and New Orleans."
Marc J. Spears can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org