Jaylen Brown drives to the basket on his way to 43 points in the Boston Celtics' defeat to Houston
Los Angeles (AFP) - Jaylen Brown erupted for 43 points but it was not enough to stop the Boston Celtics stumbling to a shock 111-109 defeat to the lowly Houston Rockets on Monday.
The second-placed Celtics had been looking to close the gap on the Milwaukee Bucks at the top of the Eastern Conference against a Houston team who are propping up the Western Conference with the league’s worst record.
But the Celtics were caught cold by a fired-up Houston, who shared the scoring around in a tight contest that saw 15 lead changes.
Jalen Green led the Rockets scoring with 28 points while five Houston players finished in double figures.
Jabari Smith Jr. posted 24 points with 12 rebounds while Kenyon Martin added 20 points. Kevin Porter Jr. finished with 14 points, six rebounds and 13 assists.
Boston could have forced overtime but Jayson Tatum missed a driving layup in the final seconds as Houston held on for the win.
“You’ve got to take the shots you have when you’re open,” Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla said. “Offensive rebounds, second chance points, turnovers -– that’s the game.
“I don’t care if you shoot half-court shots -– if you don’t win those three margins you’re not going to win many basketball games.
“When we’re at our best, we do that, when we’re inconsistent we don’t. We have to be committed to those.”
The defeat leaves Boston two games behind leaders Milwaukee in the race for the Eastern Conference’s No.1 seeding with 13 regular-season games remaining.
The Rockets by contrast are already eliminated from postseason contention and remain bottom of the Western Conference on 16-52 following Monday’s victory.
In other games on Monday, Jimmy Butler guided Miami to victory down the stretch in the Heat’s 119-115 win over the Utah Jazz.
“Jimmy’s energy, relentlessness and aggressiveness in these kind of minutes is super-unique,” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said.
Butler finished with 24 points as seven Miami players finished in double figures.
Tyler Herro and Gabe Vincent finished with 18 points apiece while Bam Adebayo added 16 points and Kevin Love 11. Victor Oladipo and Caleb Martin combined for 21 off the bench.
Lauri Markkanen led Utah’s scoring with 38 points but Miami showed the greater composure at key points in a game where the lead changed hands 17 times.
Miami, who improved to 37-33, are seventh in the East, one spot outside the automatic postseason playoff spots with 12 games left.
“We just have to continue to grind and figure out how to win some other skirmishes,” Spoelstra said.
“At this point, with 12 games left, it’s just however we need to do it, we just have to do it.”