C’s Beat the Buzzer to Complete Thrilling Comeback Over Blazers

BOSTON – The Boston Celtics trailed the Portland Trail Blazers by as many as 16 points Sunday afternoon, and they didn’t have Kyrie Irving there to help bail them out. They didn’t have Marcus Smart to help slow down Portland’s offense. And they didn’t have Marcus Morris or Shane Larkin there to help provide sparks off the bench.

But what the Celtics did have was a young, hungry group of players with a collective, never-say-die attitude, along with a pair of veterans to help guide the way. And that proved to be just enough when all was said and done.

Boston entered the second half facing a 54-38 deficit, but quickly turned things around. Al Horford led the charge with 16 points and eight boards during the second half alone, and capped off his 22-point, 10-rebound afternoon with a fadeaway, game-winner at the buzzer to edge the Blazers, 97-96.

Horford’s play was complemented by strong efforts from Jayson Tatum (17 points, five assists) and Jaylen Brown (16 points, six rebounds, four assists), a clutch performance from Terry Rozier (11 points, six rebounds, five assists, and a huge bucket during the closing moments), as well as spirited efforts off the bench from Abdel Nader, Semi Ojeleye and Daniel Theis, who combined for 19 points and 19 rebounds.

“I’m just proud of the group,” Horford said after the game. “Obviously a few guys were missing, but guys stepped up for us tonight – Semi and Nader, and just different guys coming in and contributing – and we stayed with it. We just kept defending.”

Boston came out struggling during the first half and looked like it was in store for a rough afternoon. But coach Brad Stevens encouraged the Celtics at halftime to not hang their heads and to come out of the break with more intensity.

“That’s what he’s great at,” Rozier said of his coach. “Just encouraging us and making sure we don’t get down on ourselves. It was a great message for us, and we came out there and we played hard.”

Boston’s aggression increased tenfold when it came out of the break, which Horford credited to the play of Aron Baynes (eight points, eight rebounds, two blocks) and others.

“I felt like we came out in the third and really established ourselves,” said Horford. “Baynes was being very aggressive attacking, getting good shots and going to the basket. I just felt like everybody really picked it up. And that’s a tough team, but we just found a way, stayed with it, and I’m just happy that we got the win.”

This marked Boston’s third consecutive win without Irving, and it was certainly the most impressive. It’s one thing to beat the New York Knicks and Atlanta Hawks with a depleted roster, but it's a completely different challenge to out-duel a red-hot Blazers team that’s led by one of the best backcourt combos in the league in Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum.

“Obviously Kyrie is not going to play every game, so we’ve gotta have that next-man-up mentality,” said Rozier, who has been filling in for Irving as the Celtics’ starting point guard. “It just shows the character of our team, that we’re always ready. That we can always count on one another.”

And regardless of who is sidelined, these Celtics will never back down from a challenge.

“When guys go out, we don’t make excuses,” said Brown. “We know we have to come out and be better. So when Kyrie and the rest of those guys were out, we knew we had to step up, and it was fun.”

The Celtics will look for the fun to continue this week, as it hits the road for a two-game road trip that will feature stops in Toronto and Washington, D.C. Irving and Morris will travel with the team and hope to return to the court and help add to the recent success.