The box score will show that Boston’s Isaiah Thomas (34 points) had another big night scoring the ball, while Jaylen Brown (14 points, seven rebounds) Kelly Olynyk (13 points, seven rebounds) were Boston’s most productive players on the boards.
But no one made more winning plays for the Boston Celtics down the stretch than Marcus Smart whose all-over-the-map game helped the Celtics escape with a 120-111 win.
Portland had a chance to tie the game late in the fourth, but Smart poked the ball from behind of Al-Farouq Aminu (he finished with a season-high 26 points) which led to a turnover.
On an ensuing Celtics possession, Smart crashed the lane, grabbed an Al Horford miss and put it back in for a basket that put the Celtics ahead 110-104.
And moments later, Smart drew an offensive foul against Damian Lillard.
You hear head coach Brad Stevens talk all the time about how Smart makes winning plays, but rarely have we seen him deliver them in such a trifecta fashion, one after another after another.
Smart finished with 18 points, six rebounds, five assists and five steals as Boston (34-19) bounced back from a loss at Sacramento on Wednesday night.
Boston spent most of the first half playing from behind as the Blazers pulled ahead by as many as 17 points.
Playing without Jae Crowder (family emergency) and Avery Bradley (right Achilles), Boston’s perimeter defense was going to be tested by a Blazers backcourt – C.J. McCollum and Lillard – that ranks among the highest-scoring backcourt tandems in the NBA.
And for long stretches, McCollum and Lillard gave the Celtics’ guards all they could handle.
In the first half, each took turns putting their imprint on the game with a dizzying array of step-back jumpers, 3-pointers and ankle-breaking crossover dribbles.
Lillard finished with 28 points, seven assists and six rebounds while McCollum chipped in with 20 points.
Their play coupled with solid play from the Blazers frontcourt allowed Portland to pull ahead by as many as 17 points, only for the Celtics to cut Portland’s lead down to six points (55-49) at the half.
Boston continued to surge back into the game in the third quarter, scoring six of the first eight points of the quarter to take the lead 59-57.
The two went back and forth for the rest of the quarter which ended with Boston ahead 77-76 after a 3-pointer by Brown.