2018 Awards Series Game of the Year: Dec. 28 vs. Houston
It’s awards season at Celtics.com! We’re handing out six awards over the next few weeks as we roll through this year’s Celtics.com Awards Series. We may not have trophies or acceptance speeches, but we do have some top-flight Celtics performances to outline. Here we go...
BOSTON – The Boston Celtics produced a multitude of remarkable team performances throughout the 2017-18 season, giving us plenty of options to choose from for our Game of the Year award. There was the Game 7 win over Milwaukee in the first round of the Playoffs, the 22-point comeback victory over Philadelphia in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals, and the plethora of buzzer-beating victories to all take into consideration.
However, there was one Celtics game that stood above them all – the stunning, 26-point comeback win against the Houston Rockets on Dec. 28 at TD Garden.
During a season that was chock full of comeback wins, this was by far the most impressive when taking into consideration the massive deficit and the nail-biting drama that the matchup entailed. That’s why we’ve chosen it as our Game of the Year.
Ironically, this contest had all of the makings of being the Worst Game of the Year, judging by how it started out for Boston.
Playing on the second night of a back-to-back, the Celtics came out sluggish, falling behind 32-12 by the end of the first quarter. By halftime, they trailed 62-38.
Boston’s deficit reached as many as 26 points during the third quarter and its win probability dropped to as low as 0.4 percent, according to ESPN.com.
Then suddenly, the C’s flipped a switch on both ends of the court.
Boston outscored Houston 24-9 during the final 7:26 of the third quarter, limiting the Rockets to just one field goal make during that span.
The run helped cut the C’s deficit down to single digits by the start of the final frame, and they rode that momentum straight to the finish line for a 99-98 win.
The comeback in and of itself was improbable, but the way it unfolded during the closing seconds of the game is what made it a finish for the ages.
Fresh out of a timeout and trailing 98-95 with 11.6 seconds left in the fourth quarter, Boston had the opportunity to tie up the game for the first time since the opening tip-off.
Instead, the C’s opted to go for a quick 2-pointer, as Marcus Smart fed Jayson Tatum for a cutting dunk to hack their deficit down to one point with 7.3 seconds remaining.
This meant the Celtics would need another turn of fortune in order to pull of the win. And who better to deliver one than the king of winning plays himself?
As Houston set up to inbound the ball following Tatum’s dunk, Smart draped himself all over James Harden, knowing that the pass would likely go to the Rockets’ superstar who had gone 15-of-15 from the free throw line to that point.
In a desperate attempt to get open, Harden threw his left elbow into Smart’s chest, sending the Celtics guard flying to the floor for an offensive foul.
“We were just trying to deny him the ball,” said Smart, who had held Harden scoreless on seven shot attempts throughout the game. “When you get up in him and you give him only one way to go, it’s hard; it becomes frustrating … We were trying to make it real uncomfortable for him the whole night, and he just lost it and gave me a little nudge.”
The Celtics, out of timeouts, quickly inbounded the ball to Al Horford in the post. The veteran big man went to work on Tarik Black, before sending a hook shot through the hoop with 3.7 seconds to give Boston a 99-98 advantage – its first lead of the game.
Houston still had ample time left to get off a game-winning attempt, so the Celtics needed to buckle down and get one more stop.
Guess who came through again?
Smart glued himself back onto Harden, attempting to bait the eventual league MVP into committing another charge. Sure enough, Harden’s right arm connected with Smart’s chest, and it was déjà vu all over again.
Boston took back possession of the ball and inbounded to Horford, who was promptly fouled with 2.0 seconds remaining. Horford missed his first free throw and intentionally missed the next to decrease Houston’s probability for a potential game-winner.
Eric Gordon pulled down the rebound off the second miss and launched a 75-foot Hail Mary, but the shot caromed high off the top of the backboard to put a seal on one of the most improbable comeback wins of the NBA season.