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Jan 21, 2024 8:43 am

No rest for Rockets as clash with Celtics looms

By the time overtime commenced on Saturday, the Houston Rockets’ Cam Whitmore didn’t seem to have much left in the tank.

But forgive him, because what Whitmore and fellow rookie Amen Thompson contributed before the extra period played a role in why there was overtime at all.

With Whitmore and Thompson making timely plays on both ends, the Rockets held off the Utah Jazz 127-126 in the first of back-to-back games, with the Boston Celtics up next on Sunday night in Houston.

Whitmore finished with 17 points, five rebounds and a pair of blocked shots off the bench. Before going scoreless in the extra frame, he tallied seven points in a tense fourth quarter to help the Rockets hold on after blowing a 17-point first-half advantage.

His natural assertiveness offensively was vital throughout for Houston, which received double-doubles from Alperen Sengun (37 points, 14 rebounds) and Jabari Smith Jr. (24 points, 10 rebounds) and lost Fred VanVleet (18 points, seven assists) when he fouled out with 1:58 remaining in regulation.

“I never was concerned about him offensively, more so shot selection was the main thing,” Rockets coach Ime Udoka said of Whitmore. “But the defensive side has been better. (There are) things he’ll have to learn about personnel he hasn’t faced, but he’s been great in his opportunities.

“With some guys out, he stepped up and did a great job on both ends.”

Thompson had six points, eight rebounds, two assists and two steals in 18 minutes. The second of his two blocks came with 31.7 seconds left in overtime and the Rockets clinging to a one-point lead.

Udoka subbed Thompson in for defense multiple times down the stretch of the game, and his block on Jazz guard Collin Sexton with the outcome in the balance validated that strategy.

“That’s kind of who he is,” Udoka said of Thompson. “Not on the NBA level, but he’s been a lockdown guy his whole life. He doesn’t have the experience part with different matchups and different guys. but the more he plays the better he’ll get.

“That’s one thing we were confident translating to the NBA right away was his defensive effort, intensity and versatility. It was good to see him do that and guard multiple guys.”

The Celtics had the longest home-court winning streak to start a season in franchise history end Friday when they lost 102-100 to the Denver Nuggets. Boston fell to 20-1 at home this season and had a 27-game home win streak in the regular season snapped, the longest such streak since the Celtics won 33 consecutive games at home from December 1986 through November 1987.

Jayson Tatum missed a shot at the buzzer that would have forced overtime had he converted. It marked the end of an ugly collapse for the Celtics, who led by as many as 12 points but couldn’t fend off the Nuggets down the stretch.

Given all that the Celtics have at stake this season, with their roster constructed to win their first NBA championship since the 2007-08 campaign, the result marked a disappointment. When Tatum described the final shot, his lamentation for rushing the attempt sounded more like a macro perspective on what Boston failed to accomplish against a worthy foe.

“But you can’t go back,” Tatum said. “It’s something I can learn from.”

–Field Level Media

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