It appeared the loss of Charles Barkley was going to be felt even more than anticipated as the Celtics roared out to a 25-point lead in the second quarter.
The Rockets however didn't roll over and die.
Forcing a tie with just over 4 minutes to go and trailing by 1 with just over 20 seconds to go, the Rockets couldn't finish the job, ultimately falling 100-96 to the Celtics in Beantown.
The loss is the Rockets' second straight and drops their record to 7-14.
It was also Charles Barkley Day in Boston. The Chuckster got standing ovations from the Boston crowd and was honored at halftime -- receiving a photo plaque of him and Larry Bird fighting for position in the post as well as a piece of the old Boston Garden parquet.
At halftime, Barkley told a story: "I was sitting around one night with some old guys and they're big sports fans and the old guy said, 'I played against the Yankees one day. You ever heard of them?'"
Nothing but boos from the crowd.
"And this old guy, this old hockey player, he says, 'I played against the Montreal Canadiens... "
Again, nothing but hate-filled messages from the crowd.
Barkley continued, "You know what I said to them? I said, 'Yeah, but I played against the Celtics.'" -- which prompted a great roar from the crowd.
Just reminded me yet again how much the Chuckster is going to be missed, and also reminded me of the day I got to watch courtside the Chuckster get a standing ovation from the Boston crowd in 1996 -- because of the way he put on a show for the fans.
There was a game on the floor though, and though the Rockets' defense was awful in the first half, putting them down by as many as 25, they showed a lot of heart in the comeback effort.
However, like most Rocket games this season, they just didn't know how to win in the end.
Some of the big reasons the Rockets were able to come back? Cuttino Mobley, Shandon Anderson and even Thomas Hamilton.
Mobley, who is in the final year of a 2-year deal for the league minimum, is getting more expensive with each game. Cat hit 8-15 shots and 6-8 free throws, scoring 23 points, dishing 6 assists, grabbing 6 boards and picking 2 steals -- all in 32 minutes off the bench.
He's not making a strong case to be a starter -- he's already proven it. But Rudy likes his "sparkplugs" off the bench (see Sam Cassell) and Mobley is it.
Anderson came alive later, hitting 6-12 shots for 15 points, 4 boards and 3 steals. With the Rockets down 9 with just a shade over 7 minutes to go, Anderson scored 5 straight and in came big Thomas Hamilton to get the next 4 to force a tie.
Hamilton finished with 9 points on 4-6 shooting, grabbed 5 boards and didn't stop once at Burger King in 22 minutes... a sign he's coming around.
Steve Francis on the other hand hasn't shown the overwhelmingly impressive play he showed just before the ankle injury. Francis scored just 10 points (5-12 shooting), dished 5 assists but turned the ball over 8 times. Hopefuly the ankle isn't still bothering him.
Carlos Rogers hit 7-12 shots after getting the starting nod in place of Barkley. He finished with 15 points, snared 13 caroms off the glass and dished 4 assists. Defensively he's not the answer at the PF slot, but his energy and numbers have been fantastic.
Bryce Drew, though lacking the flash, was much more under control than Francis in this game. Bryce, in just 23 minutes, hit 2-5 from the floor for 6 points -- but most impressively handed out 7 assists in that time frame.
Oh yeah ... no turnovers also for Drew.
Kelvin Cato finished with just 4 points and 7 boards, Walt Williams added 7 and Kenny Thomas 5.
Turnovers, defense and free throw shooting continue to be big problems. The Celtics shot 63% in the first half and he Rockets overall finished with 27 turnovers -- a number that will chalk up a loss just about every time.