By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) — For the second straight night, the Celtics proved they are not going to be a fun challenge for their opposition.

The Celtics continued to play relentless and gritty defense Monday night, beating the tar out of the Houston Rockets for a 111-95 victory. It was Boston’s second straight road win against a playoff-caliber team from the Western Conference, and third straight win to put them two games over .500 for the first time in Brad Stevens’ NBA career.

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Boston has won each of its last three games by making life extremely difficult for their opponents on the defensive end. The C’s continued their stretch of larceny Monday night with 16 steals against the Rockets, forcing 22 turnovers overall. That led to 39 Boston points, as eight different players logged a steal in the stat sheet. Five of those steals came in the third quarter, including three in a 2:14 stretch, as Boston outscored Houston 32-13 in the frame and turned a tie game at halftime into a convincing road blowout.

James Harden, runner-up to last season’s MVP and Houston’s perennial threat to lead the league in scoring, was held to just 16 points off a frustrating 4-for-10 night from the floor. He was responsible for four of Houston’s turnovers, with a handful of Celtics defenders sharing the assignment to keep him in check.

The C’s did their damage by doing the dirty work. They got their hands on passes and fought for loose balls — and even some that weren’t loose. It led to a frustrating evening for the Rockets, an offensive juggernaut whose confidence was all but gone come the second half.

Stealing Houston’s confidence has Boston brimming with their own as they head back from their successful two-game road trip. Their opponents aren’t as happy about Boston’s ability to pick their pocket, further fueling the team’s pride in their defensive prowess.

Much like Monday, the Celtics have been able to sense their opponents feeling a bit defeated over their recent stretch of defensive success. When that happens, it just further fuels their edge and effort on that end of the floor.

“We’re a very aggressive team and we’re not backing down from anybody,” said Smart. “There’s going to be some chippiness and some altercations.”

The Celtics won’t be making many friends with that style of play, but that’s all part of Boston’s plan on that end of the floor. As they keep pushing and pushing, they hope it leads to more and more flustering stretches for their opposition.

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“That’s what we’re trying to do,” Marcus Smart said of Boston’s defensive style. “Once we get on a roll like that in the defensive end, we lock down. We want teams to feel defeated. We want to keep our foot on the gas pedal and keep going.”

Smart got the defensive clinic going Monday night in the third, ripping a rebound from Houston power forward Terrance Jones. It was one of Smart’s five swipes on the night, and that extra possession eventually ended with a Jae Crowder layup to give Boston a 65-60 edge.

Boston’s second-year guard couldn’t follow up his offensive explosion of Monday night, when he scored a career-high 26 points against the Thunder, netting just four points on 1-for-11 shooting from the floor. But his impact was apparent on the defensive end, as he finished a plus-30 in his 30 minutes on the floor. If Smart is playing such tenacious defense, the Celtics can survive an off shooting night from their guard.

Not to be forgotten is Crowder, who had a pair of steals Monday to give him an NBA-best 30 on the season. He has multi-steal games in all but one of his 10 games this season, including a pair of five-steal efforts in a win over the Wizards and loss to the Pacers at TD Garden.

“We are in the right spots, they are very aggressive, they have great hands and they are playing really hard. If you do that, you have a chance to make things happen on that end of the floor,” Stevens said after the win. “But it’s got to be our DNA. If it’s not our DNA, we’re in trouble.”

Boston nearly met Stevens’ halftime challenge to hold Houston to 35 points in the second half. The Rockets managed 40 points over the final 24 minutes, though a chunk of them came on a 15-2 run late in the fourth quarter as Boston emptied their bench.

After Monday night’s victory, the C’s now have a defensive efficiency rating of 94.1, tied for the third-best in the NBA with the Golden State Warriors behind the San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat. Their opponents are averaging 19 turnovers per game so far this season, which tops the league.

This focus on the defensive end has Boston playing some of their best basketball in recent years, and has led to wins over playoff contenders in five of their last six. After a 1-3 start to the year, the Celtics have turned themselves into a defensive-minded team that no one really wants to play

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It will be hard for them to keep up such alarming defensive numbers, but if they continue to frustrate opponents with their intensity and grit, life is going to continue to be difficult for any team that plays these Celtics.