BOSTON – What the hell just happened?
The Boston Celtics pulled off the greatest comeback of the season, or the Houston Rockets pulled the biggest choke job we’ve seen in a while.
Regardless, Boston emerged with a 99-98 win over the Rockets after having trailed by as many as 26 points.
- Smart: 'Every player believes we can win any game'
- Scal and Draper react to the C's win over Rockets
Al Horford, who struggled with his shot most of the night, scored with 3.7 seconds to play that put Boston up 99-98 – their first lead of the night.
His game-winning basket was set up by Marcus Smart drawing an offensive foul against James Harden following a dunk by Jayson Tatum which cut Houston’s lead to 98-97.
And after Horford’s go-ahead basket?
Smart drew a second offensive foul against Harden.
Houston would get one last shot, but Eric Gordon’s length-of-the-floor shot came nowhere close to the rim.
The Rockets left the door ajar for Boston to potentially tie the game with a 3-pointer after P.J. Tucker made the the first of two free throws which made it a 96-93 game with 18.4 seconds to play.
After Tucker’s missed free throw, Smart grabbed the rebound and immediately called a time-out.
Rather than shoot a 3-pointer, Smart scored on a driving lay-up with 13.5 seconds to play to make it a one-point game.
Houston could not in-bound the ball quickly, and was forced to call a time-out.
And out of the time-out, they had to call another time-out because they could not in-bound the ball quickly.
Houston got the ball into Harden’s hands, and he was fouled with 11.6 seconds to play.
Harden, the NBA’s leading scorer this season, made both free throws to push Houston’s lead back to three points which led to the Celtics calling a time-out which set up a series of last-second heroics that adds to the season-long narrative that this team plays until the final whistle and not a second sooner.
The down-to-the-wire finish was unexpected considering how woeful Boston played in the first half.
After being pummeled in the first half unlike anything we’ve seen this season, the Celtics chipped and chipped and chipped away at Houston’s lead which was down to single digits going into the fourth quarter.
Boston went on a 12-4 run in the fourth, capped off by a Terry Rozier steal and dunk – reminiscent to the game-winning sequence he had in Indiana earlier this season – that brought Boston within 85-81 with more than seven minutes to play.
A Houston time-out with 7:05 to play seemed to be just what the Rockets needed, as they got a quick score from Nene and forced a Celtics turnover right after that.
But with 6:11 to play, Boston subbed out Marcus Morris for Marcus Smart due to Morris’ minutes restriction while still on the rebound from left knee soreness.
It was too bad because Morris’ scoring was huge during Boston’s fourth quarter comeback. He had 10 points in 19 minutes.
But picking up where Morris left off was Rozier whose 3-point play brought the Celtics within 87-86 with 5:16 to play. He had 13 points and five rebounds.
After Kyrie Irving split a pair of free throws and forced a James Harden miss, Boston had the ball down 92-91, with 2:40 to play which is when head coach Brad Stevens called a time-out.
Boston’s comeback began in earnest with a strong third quarter, a quarter that has been good to the Celtics this season.
Tonight was no exception, as Boston gradually crept their way back into the game courtesy of a series of Houston turnovers.
And the catalyst for Boston’s defense was Tatum, whose ability to force turnovers allowed Boston to get out and run in transition for easy scores or free throws. He had 19 points and five rebounds.