Rockets 93, Celtics 87: Houston, we have a (first-half) problem

BOSTON -- The frustration that the Boston Celtics experienced in the first half of Friday's visit from the Houston Rockets could be summed up in one sequence in which Evan Turner missed a layup on a hard drive to the basket, then missed two quality putback opportunities at the rim before latching onto the arm of Donatas Motiejunas while completely exasperated by the ball's defiance in a game the Celtics already trailed by double digits.

The Celtics finally got something going in the second half, cutting a 19-point deficit as low as three on multiple occasions, including in the final minute, before Houston held on for a 93-87 triumph at TD Garden.

After Houston scored 60 first-half points on 52.2 percent shooting, the Celtics frustrated the visitors by limiting the Rockets to a mere nine third-quarter points on 4 of 20 shooting. Boston kept scrapping and closed within a possession on three occassions but could never get the equalizer to drop (and they had plenty of chances). It was Motiejunas who had a putback and an alley-oop layup to help fend off Boston each time it closed within 3 late in the game (and Corey Brewer added two big free throws with 21 seconds to play).

Motiejunas finished with a career-high 26 points on 11-of-16 shooting to go along with 12 rebounds. Josh Smith had some ill-advised second-half shots, but added 15 points (on 6-of-13 shooting) with 10 rebounds. With a defensive spark from rookie Marcus Smart, the Celtics limited James Harden to 14 points on 4-of-21 shooting.

Brandon Bass and Marcus Thornton each scored a team-high 17 points for Boston. The Celtics shot just 35.6 percent (32 of 90) overall.

Loose balls: The Celtics went 10 deep with their rotation. Phil Pressey and James Young were healthy DNPs. ... The Rockets were without Dwight Howard (right knee edema). ... The Rockets finished with a 46-32 advantage in points in the paint. ... Boston limited its turnovers (12 for 16 points), but didn't capitalize much on the ones by Houston (17 turnovers, 18 points).

What it means: The Celtics have lost two straight while dropping to 16-29; the Rockets improve to 33-14. Boston is back in action on Sunday in a Super Bowl appetizer when it hosts the Miami Heat at 1 p.m.