Celtics pull off incredible comeback win over Rockets, 99-98

Celtics pull off incredible comeback win over Rockets, 99-98

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.


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.


CELTICS TALK PODCAST: How 2018 playoffs will get the 2019 Celtics close to Banner 18?

CELTICS TALK PODCAST: How 2018 playoffs will get the 2019 Celtics close to Banner 18?

Kyle Draper and A. Sherrod Blakely are joined in this episode by Ian Thomsen to discuss the Celtics/Bucks series, a big picture look at where Boston is right now in the NBA landscape, and his new book, “The Soul of Basketball.”

The guys get into a deep discussion about how the 2018 playoffs should help the long-term growth of this team. 

Kyle Draper started off the debate saying "on paper they have to be favorites coming out of the East, depending on obviously what LeBron does, going into next season."

Ian Thomsen largely sided with Drapes but added the Celtics still have plenty of work to get there.

"I agree, so long as everyone is happy with their roles going into next year. So let's say they decide to bring Marcus Smart back, is Terry Rozier going to be happy with the minutes he gets? This has been a balancing thing for Brad Stevens every year and he does such a good job of it that we kinda take for granted, if they are this talented going into next year, there's going to be a lot of management here between ego and ambitions to manage. I'm not saying anybody is a bad guy, this is just natural. This is your career and livelihood, it's everything you care about. What if Terry Rozier helps drive the Celtics to the conference finals? They do it without Kyrie, Hayward, without Marcus Smart for half the playoffs, Daniel Theis, they're missing like 40% of their team."

Complete show notes:

(:30) Kyle and Sherrod talk about the first two games of the series against the Bucks, and how the lack of fight and organization from a talented Bucks team has been the most noticeable factor so far.

(4:57) Ian Thomsen joins the pod, and starts off talking about how the Bucks need to win the next four games, because there’s no way they’re winning a Game 7 in Boston.

(6:30) Ian weighs in on the Terry Rozier/Eric Bledsoe “feud.”

(8:25) Jaylen Brown has been huge for the C’s so far. Thomsen talks about how impressed he’s been with the 2nd year guard this season.

(10:44) While in some respects, the logjam of point guards the Celtics have had has hurt Terry Rosier, the benefits have also been great in some aspects, including how to be a leader. Ian references Avery Bradley as a mentor to Rozier on his inconsistent minutes. Thomsen talks about the number of role models and culture the Celtics have built.

(12:29) The discussion then moves to how this postseason and the experience the Celtics young players are getting could be a huge factor in Boston being a contender next year, when their health hopefully returns. Ian talks about the only factor that could derail this thinking.

(15:00) Thomsen talks about what Danny Ainge might do with Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier, and the possibility they could be used in a trade for Anthony Davis.

(16:40) Thomsen then talks about his new book “The Soul of Basketball” and how Paul Pierce and the Celtics shaped the last 7-8 years of the NBA. Thomsen gives us some great nuggets on the 2010 behind-the-scenes drama with Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen. Ian’s of the opinion that Paul Pierce, the Celtics, and the 2007 NBA Draft lottery had a lot to do with LeBron’s decision to leave Cleveland for Miami.

(25:00) Kyle and Sherrod take a quick trip around the NBA playoffs, discussing the Cavs/Pacers series, along with OKC/Utah and New Orleans/Portland.



Celtics fans may see a little Pierce in Middleton's game

Celtics fans may see a little Pierce in Middleton's game

MILWAUKEE – Sitting down before a recent shoot-around, Khris Middleton looks comfortable, at ease, very chill.

And when you watch him play, he exudes similar qualities on the floor, often moving at a pace that seems slower than most and yet he still manages to get buckets – lots of buckets.

Celtics fans have had the pleasure of seeing similar skills on display for more than a decade in Paul Pierce.  

So, it’s no surprise that Middleton counts Pierce among those whose play has greatly influenced his game.

“He was a great scorer,” Middleton said of Pierce whose number 34 was retired earlier this season at the TD Garden. “He had great footwork. He knew how to use his body, angles to get his shot off. He was probably a little bit faster than me, more athletic than me but he was crafty, knowing how to create just enough space to get his shot off or get by a guy. That’s what I try to do.”

While Boston has a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series against Middleton's Milwaukee Bucks, it certainly hasn’t been because of Middleton’s scoring.

The 6-foot-8 wing is averaging 28.0 points in the first two games, along with six rebounds and 3.5 assists, while shooting 64.7 percent from the field and 69.2 percent (9-for-13) from 3-point range.

Game 3 is Friday night in Milwaukee.

“He’s a good player,” said Boston’s Marcus Morris, who has competed against Middleton dating to when they were at Kansas and Texas A&M, respectively.

Middleton’s ascension to being such a key figure in Milwaukee’s roster speaks to how he was prepared when given an opportunity to perform.

A second-round pick of the Detroit Pistons in 2012, injuries limited his chances to play there.

So they traded him in 2013 to Milwaukee as essentially a salary-cap filler as part of a deal that sent Brandon Knight to the Bucks and Brandon Jennings to Detroit.

Middleton stresses that he has no ill-will towards Detroit; in fact, he’s thankful in hindsight for them trading him to a franchise that was willing to give him a shot at playing and to Middleton’s credit, he has been healthy enough to take advantage of it.

“Growing up all your life, you’re kind of that guy,” he said. “And then to get to the next level and be told you’re not that guy...it’s humbling. But it gave me a hungry mindset to keep working and never give up. That’s why I keep working, prove that I belong in this league and I belong on that court.”

You won’t get an argument from Celtics coach Brad Stevens, who has been singing the praises of Middleton well before Boston found itself facing him and the Bucks in the first round of the playoffs.

“Middleton spaces the floor. He can run off screens and score,” Stevens said earlier. “He’s a really good scorer cutting off the ball. And he’s a knockdown shooter.”

And he’s hungry to continue adding to his offensive arsenal by learning from the league’s best players past and present, a group that includes Pierce.

“I try to take a little stuff from their game and fit it in my game,” Middleton said. “I’m not the most athletic guy, so I see how they set up some of their moves just to create a little bit of space to get their shot off; that’s what I try to do.”