Rapid Reaction: Celtics 103, Rockets 91

Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

Avery Bradley applies tough defense on James Harden.BOSTON -- Rapid reaction after the Boston Celtics defeated the Houston Rockets 103-91 on Friday night at TD Garden:


Paul Pierce scored a team-high 23 points on 8-of-14 shooting (doing most of his damage in the second half), while Kevin Garnett added 17 points on 8-of-12 shooting with eight rebounds to pace the Celtics. Boston got another big effort from its bench with Courtney Lee and Jared Sullinger chipping in 14 points apiece. The Celtics shot 51.9 percent (41-of-79) from the floor and 39.1 percent (9-of-23) from beyond the arc. Avery Bradley's pesky defense limited James Harden to a modest 24 points on 9-of-19 shooting, while Chandler Parsons (18 points) and Jeremy Lin (12 points) joined him in double figures for the Rockets.


For the second straight game, the Boston bench turned the game around in the second quarter and in similar fashion with Jeff Green's dunks lighting the fuse. In a one-possession contest midway through the second frame, Green sandwiched a pair of dunks around a Jason Terry 3-pointer and Lee followed with a triple of his own to put Boston out front 46-33 after a dizzying 90-second outburst. Sullinger played all 12 second-quarter minutes, registering eight points and five rebounds (he had 14 and 8 for the half) and was a big reason Boston ripped the game open a bit. For good measure, the Boston starters opened the second half on a 9-0 run -- Pierce hitting a pair of 3-pointers and adding a pair of free throws while doing the heavy lifting -- to carve out a 17-point cushion.


The Celtics were up 14 with 10:14 to play, but the Rockets wouldn't go quietly. A Carlos Delfino 3-pointer sparked a 12-0 run (one in which Boston missed layups and turned the ball over carelessly). A Parsons dunk had Boston clinging to an 83-81 lead with 7:22 to go, but Pierce scored coming out of a momentum-sapping timeout and the Celtics put together a 9-1 burst to push the lead back to double digits with just under six minutes to go.


The Celtics busted out their finest free throw line defense as the Rockets missed a whopping 17 freebies (on 29 attempts; 41.4 percent). The Celtics didn't get themselves to the line very often, but took advantage when they did (12-of-16, 75 percent).


The Celtics (19-17) push their winning streak to a season-high five games and are two games over .500 for the first time since losing in Houston on Dec. 14. With the Knicks getting stomped by Chicago, Boston should move within four games of the top spot in the Atlantic Division. This wasn't a perfect effort and Boston lost its focus -- almost critically -- for a stretch in the fourth quarter, but the Celtics showed quality resolve pushing their lead right back up to double digits in the fourth quarter. The Celtics have the weekend off before three more home games next week (Charlotte, New Orleans, and Chicago).