Only three other teams in Rockets franchise history have won more than 15 straight games. The 1992-93 Rockets won 15 straight as did the 1993-94 team (that opened the season on the road to an NBA title). In 2007-08, the Rockets won a remarkable 22 straight before an injury to Yao Ming derailed what was a pretty magical season.
On Saturday night, they beat the Boston Celtics, who hold the second best record in the East, 123-120 to pick up their 15th in a row. They also have a 14-game winning streak earlier this season. The win keeps them a game ahead of Golden State in the loss column as the Rockets head into the toughest 10-game stretch of the season.
What was remarkable about the win on Saturday, besides beating one of the few teams who can claim to have bested the Rockets this season, was this was clearly not the best this team has to offer. The first meeting, in Boston, saw the Rockets collapse at the end of a game they had control over. Saturday, they struggled and found a way to win down the stretch.
James Harden was 6-18 from the floor and only 3-12 from downtown, but he had 10 assists and 7 rebounds while hitting 11 of his 13 free throws. Overall, the Rockets shot worse from the floor and the three point line than the Celtics, but they were tough defensively down the stretch and hit key shots at important moments to push a 6-point fourth quarter deficit to a 3-point win against one of the best in the league.
Two stats stand out. The Rockets only turned the ball over ten times. They spent most of the last few seasons in the bottom third of the league in turnovers thanks, in part, to their frenetic style of play on offense. This year, they are in the top third. Second, they had 11 steals. The Rockets are second in the league in steals and that tenacious, switching defense in the fourth quarter was too much for Boston.
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These two teams match up well. If they were to see each other again, it would be in the NBA Finals. That could turn into a barn burner.
For now, the Rockets hit the road for four straight at Oklahoma City against a very up and down Thunder team before a back-to-back with travel in Milwaukee. Then, they head to Toronto to meet the team with the best record in the East before coming back to Texas to take on the Mavericks in Dallas.
That's just the start of a brutal 10 games that include seven on the road with two back-to-back games, both with travel in between. Of those 10 games, seven are against likely playoff teams including OKC, Toronto, San Antonio, New Orleans, Minnesota, Portland and Detroit. Four of the Rockets losses this year have come against those seven teams.
Of course, one had also come against Boston and they took care of them on Saturday. But if they intend to challenge the 2007-08 team for the longest winning streak in franchise history, they have a tough road ahead of them.