BOSTON — Almost exactly a year after the Boston Celtics lost a home game to a good Houston Rockets team, the Celtics lost a home game to a good Rockets team.

On Saturday night and on March 3, 2019, the Celtics missed a lot of shots and with them an opportunity beat a good team.

But the feeling is different this season, and not just because Boston had an exciting finish to regulation to force overtime before falling, 111-110.

Last year losses felt like gut punches. Everything was a referendum on mindset, body language, chemistry and Kyrie Irving. This year they’re barely ear-flicks. Saturday’s loss was a lousy grade on a test for a high school senior who has already sent in their deposit for the first semester of college. It matters (a win would have moved them into a second-place time with Toronto) but not that much.

There are 23 regular-season games left, but barring an absurd surge up or down this team is headed for a high seed and high expectations when the playoffs begin.

Had the Celtics won the game, it wouldn’t have been parade-worthy either. This was a good team beats another good team in a close game. If they played again tomorrow the margin is probably similar.


“Both teams played hard. Both teams made a lot of those plays. I think they made a few more. I think the right team won,” Celtics Coach Brad Stevens said. “I think they were better than us tonight. Not by much, but at least by one.”

Houston isn’t a great matchup for the Celtics. Of Boston’s three losses in February, the Rockets authored two of them. Their physicality hurt the Celtics on several fronts, but if another shot dropped here or there, the finish might have been different despite 27-for-72 combined shooting from Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart.

“The physicality really affected us in both games against Houston, like really affected us,” Stevens said. “We have to become a little better holding our ground.”

It would be a mistake not to take lessons from this. The playoffs will be more physical than the regular season and it’s a reminder that there aren’t enough bench options when the Celtics’ starting five aren’t scoring but getting Walker back will help.

But there’s a belief in the locker room that the Celtics are still climbing.

“We just have to clean up little things and as we inch toward the playoffs we will,” Brown said.

“We’ll be all right. … We still have another level we can go to. Tonight was a good learning lesson, a great game for us to build off of and learn.”

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