Al Horford

Celtics rally from down 26 to beat Rockets

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Celtics rally from down 26 to beat Rockets

BOSTON -- Al Horford made a hook shot with 3.7 seconds left to give Boston its only lead of the game, and the Celtics rallied from a 26-point deficit to beat the Houston Rockets 99-98 on Thursday night.

Kyrie Irving scored 26 and Jayson Tatum finished with 19 for the Celtics, while Marcus Smart drew two offensive fouls against James Harden in the closing seconds to help Boston complete the comeback.

Smart and Terry Rozier had 13 points apiece.

Tatum made a layup with seven seconds left to pull the Celtics within 98-97, then Smart had position on Harden for an offensive foul that gave Boston the ball and a chance to win it. Horford converted from the lane to put Boston up for the first time in a game Houston had led throughout and dominated until midway through the third quarter.

Harden finished with 34 points and 10 assists. Eric Gordon scored 24 points for Houston, which shot 25 percent (9 of 36) in the second half and lost its fourth straight.

The Rockets had one last chance after Horford's go-ahead hook shot, but Harden was called for another offensive foul and time expired after Horford missed his second free throw (see full recap).

Magic beat Pistons to snap 9-game losing streak
ORLANDO, Fla. -- Elfrid Payton had 19 points, eight rebounds and eight assists to help the Orlando Magic break a nine-game losing streak with a 102-89 victory over the Detroit Pistons on Thursday night.

Evan Fournier scored 17 points and Aaron Gordon had 14 for Orlando, but it was the Magic's backup centers who made the difference in the game.

Bismack Biyombo had 12 points and 13 rebounds, and Marresse Speights scored 16 points as replacements for injured starter Nikola Vucevic.

Tobias Harris scored 21 points for Detroit, which had won five of six. Andre Drummond had 17 points and 18 rebounds, and Ish Smith contributed 13 points, seven rebounds and five assists.

The Magic controlled most of the game, but needed a boost from Speights and a strong fourth quarter defensively to win it.

The backup center scored Orlando's last nine points of the third period to give the home team a 77-71 lead. His 3-pointer on the first possession of the final quarter started a 9-0 run that put the Magic ahead 86-73 with 9:47 left in the game (see full recap).

Bucks rally from 20 down to beat Timberwolves
MILWAUKEE -- Eric Bledsoe scored 26 points and Giannis Antetokounmpo added 22 to help the Milwaukee Bucks rally from a 20-point deficit and beat the Minnesota Timberwolves 102-96 on Thursday night.

Bledsoe had six points and made two key assists down the stretch and the Bucks found their missing defense, holding the Timberwolves to a season-low 12 points in the fourth quarter. Minnesota went cold over the last 4:21 and had its five-game winning streak snapped.

Bledsoe took a pass from Antetokounmpo and made an open 3-pointer from the corner to give the Bucks their first lead of the game at 95-93 with 2:25 to go. Bledsoe followed with a three-point play and then found Antetokounmpo under the basket for an easy two points, pushing the lead to 100-93 with 1:04 left.

Minnesota perhaps wore down a night after a 128-125 overtime victory over Denver and had a four-game road winning streak snapped.

Karl-Anthony Towns scored 22 points for Minnesota and Andrew Wiggins added 21 (see full recap).

Sixers-Celtics 5 things: Avenging two extremely close losses

Sixers-Celtics 5 things: Avenging two extremely close losses

The Sixers (21-34) play their final game before the All-Star break when they take on the Boston Celtics (36-19) at TD Garden (7:30 p.m./CSN, and the NBC Sports app).

Let's take a closer look at the matchup:

1. Back to work
Well, the Sixers know how to keep things interesting.

After Jahlil Okafor sat out the last two games because of what was thought to be an impending trade, he joined the team in Boston for this matchup against the Celtics.

Okafor was present with the team during shootaround and is expected to come off the bench against the C's (see story).

It's just the latest twist in what has been a strange few weeks for Okafor. The second-year center went from a string of DNP-CDs to starting for the injured Joel Embiid. Then Okafor stated he wanted to remain a Sixer as he played through growing trade speculation, only to be removed from the lineup for a potential deal. Now he's back in a reserve role behind Nerlens Noel.

Throw in the fact that Okafor rejoins the Sixers in Beantown — the place where one of his worst off-court transgressions took place as a rookie — and you would be hard pressed to find Hollywood writers that could make up this scenario.

2. Going streaking
As far as on the court, things have been going well for the Sixers. They used Nicolas Batum's guarantee of a victory as fuel for a 105-99 win over the Charlotte Hornets on Monday. The win was their third in a row to tie a season high.

"You can’t say that with us,” Noel said of Batum's guarantee. “We’re not the team that we used to be in the past few years.”

That's true. Following a rocky transition to Embiid's being out for extended time, the Sixers have found a rhythm and will go for their first four-game win streak since Dec. 29-Jan. 4 of the 2013-14 season.

The Celtics are riding a three-game win streak of their own and have won 10 of 11 to climb into the second spot in the Eastern Conference.

3. Little big man
The biggest reason the Celtics have been able to shoot up the standings is the stellar play of Isaiah Thomas.

Thomas is second in the NBA in scoring with a career-high 29.8 points per game. The diminutive guard has shot the ball well: a career-best 46.8 percent from the field and 38.2 percent from three-point range.

Thomas hasn't neglected the other aspects of his game. He has also put up 6.3 assists and 2.6 rebounds a night.

The Sixers know just how dangerous the All-Star has been this season. He is averaging 30.5 points, 5.0 assists and 4.0 boards against them so far in 2016-17.

4. Injuries
Embiid (knee), Ben Simmons (foot) and Jerryd Bayless (wrist) are out for the Sixers.

Avery Bradley (Achilles) is a game-time decision. Jaylen Brown (hip) is out for the Celtics.

5. This and that
• The Sixers have lost 10 straight to the Celtics.

• The Sixers' first two defeats of the season to the Celtics came by a combined five points: a 107-106 home loss on Dec. 3 and a 110-106 road loss on Jan. 6.

• Ersan Ilyasova is averaging 19.0 points and 4.0 rebounds against the Celtics this season.

Sixers hurt by 2 blown calls in 4-point loss to Celtics, NBA says

Sixers hurt by 2 blown calls in 4-point loss to Celtics, NBA says

Two missed calls that hurt the Sixers and favored the Celtics in Friday's four-point loss in Boston were highlighted in the NBA's Last Two Minute Report.

According to the league, an offensive foul should have been called on Al Horford with 1:49 remaining and the Celtics up two. Instead, Isaiah Thomas got to the line on that possession and made one of two free throws.

Later, with eight seconds left and the Sixers down, 107-106, Ersan Ilyasova missed a jumper. The NBA concluded that on the rebound attempt, Joel Embiid and Amir Johnson should have been called for a double-foul on each other, resulting in a jump ball. Instead, the rebound was awarded to Johnson and a foul was called on Embiid. Johnson also made one of two.

The NBA began issuing the Last Two Minute Reports in March 2015. The reports look at all calls made in the final two minutes of a game within five points. 

Kevin Durant, following the Warriors' one-point loss to the Cavs on Christmas, recently criticized the reports. 

"You can't fine us for when we go out there and criticize [the refs] and then throw them under the bus for the two-minute report. What about the first quarter, second quarter, third quarter? I think it's bull----," Durant told the San Jose Mercury News. "They should get rid of them. Refs don't deserve that. They're trying their hardest to get the play right, then you look at the play in slo-mo and say it's wrong. I think it's bull---- that they do that. Full of s--- that you throw the refs under the bus like that after the game. Like it matters. The game's over. We move on."

Per ESPN's Zach Lowe, NBA vice president of basketball operations Kiki Vandeweghe indicated the Last Two Minute Reports will continue to be issued and that the league will "probably" advance to issuing game-long reports.