The Boston Celtics dropped Game 4 in heartbreaking fashion Sunday after storming back from a 16-point deficit in Philadelphia, only to fall, 116-115 in overtime.
Still, there were plenty of positives that Boston’s players took away from the game, particularly the way in which they dominated throughout most of crunch time.
The only elements that kept them from completing the comeback were two critical shots by James Harden –a game-tying jumper that sent the game into overtime and the game-winning 3-pointer with 19 seconds remaining in the extra period that would ultimately tie the second-round series at 2-2.
After trailing by 15 points with a little more than a minute remaining in the third quarter, the Celtics turn up the intensity and outscored Philly 32-17 over the last 15 minutes of regulation.
The 76ers had 92 points through the first three quarters and then mustered only 15 in the fourth frame, 10 of which were from Harden alone.
“I felt like our group did a great job in the fourth, locking in, defensively, everybody taking the challenge, trying to be better,” said Al Horford, who blocked three of Joel Embiid's shot attempts in the final five minutes of regulation. “That was quite a comeback, and then we were really close. So I'm pretty encouraged with our group and with the focus that we played. We knew we were going to get their best shot today. And they put it out there. We were able to withstand it and just weren’t able to close the game. But I’m pretty proud of our group and how we responded today.”
Head coach Joe Mazzulla saw it as “just a great playoff basketball game” that came down to a couple of crucial plays in the closing minutes. Like Horford, he also loved the poise that he saw from the team as it battled back.
“Making plays on both ends of the floor, defending without fouling, forcing them into some tough shots, getting out into transition, making plays – I loved our mindset, really, throughout the entire game,” Mazzulla said. “Talk about managing our expectations; it’s exactly what we expected. To get a great punch in the game from them, and then any time you’re in a possession game like that, it comes down to who makes the most plays at the end.”
Marcus Smart was one of the guys who made some huge plays down the stretch. He scored 13 of his 21 points during the fourth quarter and overtime, including a pair of massive triples in the fourth. He also nearly won the game when he made the final shot of overtime, but the 3-pointer was ruled no good as the attempt left his fingertips half a second late.
“It was a dog fight,” said Smart. “We were down and we continued to fight our way back and that’s all you can ask for.”
Jayson Tatum played a major role in the second-half comeback following a rough first half in which he only scored two points. He finished the game with a historic stat line of 24 points, 18 rebounds, six assists, and four blocks, making him just the fifth player in NBA history to reach those marks in a playoff game along with Hall-of-Famers Tim Duncan, Patrick Ewing, Shaquille O’Neal, and Hakeem Olajuwon.
“He didn’t let the fact that he wasn’t scoring affect his defense and his mindset,” Mazzulla said of Tatum’s impact. “I thought his presence was great, and I thought he chipped away. I thought the whole team did.”
Horford says it’s important that the team carries that same mindset into Game 5 Tuesday night so that they can bounce back with force on their home court.
“I know that everybody’s feeling down; we lost the game,” said the veteran big man. “But I’m pretty encouraged by our group. I saw something. I saw some growth in our group, things we haven’t been able to do all year. And to be able to do them tonight on this type of stage, I’m very encouraged for our group.”