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Celtics win on huge rally

By MIKE SHALIN
The Sports Xchange

December 28. 2017 11:44PM
Boston Celtics guard Kyrie Irving (11) drives against Houston Rockets shooting guard Eric Gordon (10) during the first half at TD Garden in Boston Dec. 28, 2017. (Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports)



BOSTON — The Boston Celtics pulled off the biggest comeback of the NBA season on Thursday night.

Down by 26 points early in the third quarter, the Celtics never led until Al Horford scored with 3.7 seconds left, escaping with a wild 99-98 victory that sent the shorthanded Houston Rockets to their fourth straight loss.

Two straight offensive fouls in the backcourt resulting from James Harden knocking down Marcus Smart as the Rockets (25-8) tried to inbound the ball with no timeouts left turned the game in the closing seconds.

Down 98-95, the Celtics (29-10) got a slam dunk from Jayson Tatum to make it 98-97 with 7.3 seconds on the clock. The first call against Harden set up the winning basket. The second led to Horford being fouled with two seconds remaining.

He missed both foul shots, the second on purpose, but there wasn’t enough time for Houston to do anything with the rebound.

As the Celtics celebrated, the Rockets stood to the side, stunned.

The previous top comeback this season was the Golden State Warriors coming back from 24 down to win at Philadelphia Nov. 18.

Kyrie Irving led the Celtics with 26 points, despite going just 1-for-6 from 3-point range (the team was just 8 of 29). Tatum scored 19 points, while Terry Rozier and Marcus Smart both scored 13 and Marcus Morris 10. Horford had nine points, eight rebounds and four assists.

Harden, who led all scorers with 34 points, was just 7 of 27 from the floor (he hit all 15 free throws, four on one possession, thanks to two technical fouls.) Eric Gordon scored 17 of his 24 in the first half and Trevor Ariza had 11 points for the Rockets, who shot more 3-pointers (43) than 2s (37).

Houston, which scored the game’s first 12 points, was missing the injured Chris Paul, Clint Capela and Luc Mbah a Moute.

The Rockets led 64-38 1:09 into the second half before the Celtics began coming back. But the lead was still 23 when Boston ripped off 12 straight points, cutting the lead down to half of what it was – 13.

Tarik Black hit a slam with 5:44 left in the quarter and Gordon’s 3-pointer was the only Houston basket until Nene scored inside with 6:53 remaining in the game.

NOTES: The game was played with only two officials – Mark Lindsay out with a sore back. … Celtics G Terry Rozier came in leading the NBA with 888 bench minutes. … Boston coach Brad Stevens on the Rockets signing former Celtic Gerald Green, who flew in yesterday for his second stint with the Rockets (he played four minutes in 2007-08): “I wish they would have waited until tomorrow. But I’m happy for Gerald.” Green played 47 games for the Celtics last season. … Boston’s G-League team in Maine acquired former No. 1 overall draft pick Anthony Bennett, who is still available to any team that wants to sign him. … F Jaylen Brown (foot) and Semi Ojeleye (back remained out while F Marcus Morris (knee), who missed 10 of the previous 11, was back in. … The Rockets complete their back-to-back at Washington Friday night while the Ce


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