BOSTON – When the Boston Celtics were making their comeback in the second half against Portland, it was Al Horford leading the charge.
So when the Celtics needed a bucket to steal the victory, they turned to – you got it – Al Horford.
And Big Al delivered when it mattered most, draining a fadeaway jumper as the final horn sounded to lift Boston to a 97-96 win.
Horford led the Celtics with a double-double of 22 points and 10 rebounds along with five assists.
For Portland, the Blazers were led by their dynamic backcourt of C.J.McCollum and Damian Lillard who had 22 and 21 points, respectively.
Boston opened the fourth quarter with a 6-2 spurt that tied the game at 75, only for the Blazers to bounce back with six straight points.
It was that kind of game for the Celtics, who were in close-but-not-close enough mode most of the game against a Blazers team that like Boston, had won four of its previous five games coming into today’s matchup.
Boston found themselves in catch-up mode from the outset, as Portland opened with a 15-10 run and led 26-19 after the first.
The Celtics climbed back into the game, and were within one possession, 39-36, following a powerful drive and dunk by Horford.
But the Blazers responded with a 15-2 run to lead 54-38 at the half.
The Celtics knew Lillard and McCollum were going to be problems, as well as Jusuf Nurkic.
But Mo Harkless?
The former St. John’s star, whose alma mater knocked off Duke this weekend, was having a big night for the Blazers and was indeed the difference-maker in the first half with 14 points on 5-for-7 shooting. He would finish with 19 points off the bench.
But as we’ve seen with the Celtics all season, they have made a pretty good living off of comebacks with the early goings in the third quarter looking as if they were intent on adding another chapter to the season-long narrative.
Boston opened the third with a 10-2 run to come within 57-48 following a jumper by Jaylen Brown.
Portland called a time-out with 7:57 to play in the third, pushing its lead back to double figures following a 3-pointer by Al-Farouq Aminu.
Boston had multiple chances to take the lead in the third, with Terry Rozier having a trio of misses that would have put the Celtics ahead.
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Daniel Theis, a 78 percent free throw shooter this season, missed a pair with Boston trailing 68-67 at the time.
Portland eventually made the Celtics pay for the blown opportunities as they closed out the third quarter by scoring five of the last seven points to lead 73-69 going into the fourth.