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Celtics 108, Rockets 90

With key pieces back, Celtics ride dominant third quarter to roll past Rockets

Jayson Tatum's 30-point night helped the Celtics to their third straight win.Charles Krupa/Associated Press

After the Celtics rolled to a 108-90 win over the Rockets on Monday, center Robert Williams gave a brief interview on the court and then slapped the hands of a few fans as he entered the tunnel toward Boston’s locker room.

Once he got there, he was alone, but that didn’t stop him from making it clear how he felt. He clapped his hands several times before screaming to no one in particular: “Let’s get it!” He clapped his hands a few more times and bounded down a hallway.

Williams had missed the Celtics’ last three games with left knee pain, and on Monday he returned along with Jaylen Brown, who had been sidelined for the last eight games because of a strained hamstring. With both players back, the Celtics provided another encouraging example of their potential.


“For the most part,” forward Al Horford said, “we kind of got a good sense of how things can look.”

Brown had 19 points in just 23 minutes and Williams grabbed 15 rebounds in 23 minutes. Boston has now won three games in a row, and its bumpy start to this year is fading further into the distance.

It is worth pointing out that the Rockets are, well, the Rockets, and they dropped to 1-16. Nevertheless, it was a good night for the Celtics, who have now won five consecutive home games after starting the season by losing their first three.

Jayson Tatum’s early slump has almost been forgotten. The All-Star scored 30 points against Houston and has reached that mark in four consecutive games. He attempted a season-high nine free throws, all in the first half.

Jayson Tatum glides past the Houston defense to score two first-half points Monday night at TD Garden.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

“The shots that he was getting, he’s knocking them down now, being extra aggressive,” coach Ime Udoka said. “Attacking the basket a little bit more, getting more free throws … But still doing what he did early, getting the same shots that he was missing that we knew would flip eventually.”


The start of this season featured so many tense, long, draining games for Boston. Four of its first 12 went to overtime, and two of those spilled into second overtimes. The past few days have provided a slight respite.

“There’s definitely benefits,” Udoka said. “We don’t want all these tight games and extra minutes. And if we could take these — you know, 29-point lead — we’ll take that every night.”

There was the 22-point win over the Lakers on Friday, the 111-105 victory over the Thunder Saturday that was far more lopsided than that score indicates, and now this win over Houston, which was just as lopsided as the score indicates.

Al Horford plays some genuine in-your-face defense Tuesday night against former Boston big man Daniel Theis, who now suits up for the Rockets.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

The Celtics trailed by as many as 6 in the first half and held a 52-47 lead at the break. But they blitzed Houston with a 24-3 run at the start of the third quarter and mostly coasted after that.

Brown looked a bit rusty during the first quarter. He said he felt some hamstring tightness before the the game and “wasn’t super happy” with how his body felt in the win.

But he started to find a rhythm in the second quarter. During one stretch he hit a 16-footer, blazed past Christian Wood for a layup, came up with a steal for another easy bucket, and drilled an open 3-pointer.

He was a bit slow on a couple of defensive rotations and seemed winded when he checked out after his first stint. Then in the third quarter he carried the Celtics to a comfortable lead by scoring eight points in a 42-second stretch, including a pair of pull-up 3-pointers.


Jaylen Brown had 19 points in 23 minutes Monday against Houston.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

“I think that in the next coming days I’ll get back to feeling 100 percent and we’ll get back to adding some wins,” Brown said. “This group has played extremely well while I’ve been out. I’ve seen a lot of steps forward from a lot of guys that makes me excited about our potential. I just want to continue to add value, play off those guys and keep winning games.”

Boston’s early-season schedule has been relatively light, but that will change Wednesday, when Kevin Durant, James Harden, and the Nets come to TD Garden. Then Boston will begin a grueling stretch in which seven of eight games will be played on the road, including matchups against the Clippers, Jazz, Suns, and Lakers.

“I do believe that this is a great opportunity,” Horford said, “and now we’re getting healthy, so that’s a positive.”

Adam Himmelsbach can be reached at adam.himmelsbach@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @adamhimmelsbach.