Wow. Just wow. This team. This amazing team. We’ve seen stuff of this nature all season long (and really for as long as Marcus Smart has been in green) but this might be the most impressive one of Brad Stevens’ tenure. After a grueling schedule, on the second night of a back-to-back, down 26 points to one of the top teams in the league, ...and they came all the way back to win??? Amazing. I’m out of words. Thankfully my colleagues have a few more words to add.
As we like to say: "This team." And nothing else really describes them but those two simple words. The Celtics continue to confound and frustrate like no other. But they are almost always there in the end when it matters most.
The back-to-back offensive foul calls Marcus Smart drew on James Harden will garner all the attention, and rightfully so. But what shouldn't be missed was Jayson Tatum putting on a defensive clinic in the fourth quarter.
He started it by shutting down Eric Gordon on two consecutive drives to the hoop. Both plays began with Tatum switched onto Gordon and taking away three-point looks. Then he used his length to contest two straight layups without fouling.
Tatum then showed off his pick and roll defense on the next trip. Harden and Ryan Anderson run the pick and pop play to perfection most nights. On this trip, Tatum hedged hard on Harden, forced him to pick up the dribble, then used his length and quickness to get back to Anderson to take away any idea Anderson might have had at getting up a triple.
But he saved his best for last. He drew Harden on a switch and held his ground. Then when Harden went to his step-back, Tatum closed, used his ridiculous wingspan to keep his body off of Harden's and blocked the three-pointer.
On a night when defense was the only thing that was going to get Boston back in the game, several Celtics stepped up. But none stepped up bigger than Jayson Tatum.
Savor those two drawn offensive fouls on James Harden. While it was truly the team effort that held Houston to just 36 points in the entire second half, the buttery popcorn drama of Marcus Smart's defensive bravado should make his season highlight reel.
Was it Smart's defensive prowess on display, or were the final moments of the fourth quarter comeback the winter stage for his Academy Award-winning performance? Perhaps it was a bit of both. Perhaps those of us who don't accept selling a foul as part of basketball should view tonight's work as part of a defensive NBA acid test.
Whatever –it made for thrilling stuff. Here's Smart slyly admitting that he might be aware of his role as top Celtic pest.
Did Marcus Smart get under James Harden's skin? "If that’s what we want to call it, I probably did." Is he good at that role? "I guess you could say that. My mom might say that." pic.twitter.com/3eXQ42ZakW— Chris Forsberg (@ESPNForsberg) December 29, 2017
The Celtics had every reason to quit tonight. They were on a second night of a back-to-back, missing Jaylen Brown and Semi Ojeleye, and had already played 6 more games than a Houston team that hadn’t played since Christmas. There were a lot of things that went into one of the more exciting comebacks of the season, but let’s give a quick shoutout to Shane Larkin. He’s not always going to hit his jumpshots, but he is proving to be one of the more capable on-ball defenders and makes life tough for ball handlers in a way that is reminiscent to Avery Bradley. In the third quarter, the C’s went to their magical 3-guard lineup with Larkin-Rozier-Irving. Larkin drew the challenge of Eric Gordon, HOU’s 2nd best scorer and one that had a substantial advantage in height and strength. Despite the disadvantage, Larkin hounded the star 6th man and completely eliminated any potential for open looks. His stat line won’t scream great game by any means, but he played a big-time role in the unit that ignited the Celtics big run.
Tonight’s win was a testament to Brad Stevens’ “singles” philosophy. Especially in comebacks like this, but he always tells his team to keep hitting singles rather than go for the home run every time.
That’s what we saw as the Celtics erased a 26-point deficit to defeat one of the top teams in the NBA. They didn’t shoot very well from three(27%), and Boston’s late game attempts to tie the game weren’t three-point tries, but rather looks at the rim to force the Rockets to make a mistake, which they ultimately did.
When teams get down by a ton they’ll try to get it all back with one big sprint, and if it doesn’t work then it’s lights out. Brad Stevens was able to keep his team collected throughout the second half to where they simply chipped the lead away until they won the game.
I love this team.
For 47+ minutes, Al Horford had a tough night on offense. But with the game on the line, the Celtics went to him in the post. He responded by bullying his way into the paint and draining the contested hook shot. It was a gritty, tough game-winner that fit the vibe of the comeback perfectly.
Now, did Horford also miss a free throw after that? Yes. But then he nailed the delightfully weird “intentional miss to ruin a heave” play, which is good enough for me. On a night where attention is (rightfully) focused on the young guys, Horford deserves some love for coming through in the clutch.