Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports

Celtics 97, Blazers 96: Al Horford buzzer-beater caps wild comeback

Ty Anderson
February 04, 2018 - 3:04 pm

It took the Celtics almost 40 minutes to find themselves back on even footing with the Trail Blazers at 75-75 with nine minutes left in the fourth quarter. But it took four seconds and just one foot on a fadeaway jumper for Al Horford to steal a win for the Celtics by a 97-96 final.

“I wanted to end the game so we could go watch the Super Bowl,” Brad Stevens joked after the win, his club’s third straight, when asked about the game-winning play. “We got it to Al in the middle of the floor, which has usually been pretty good to us.”

But it was not his original plan. In fact, the Celtics went into that possession with a play for Jaylen Brown in mind. But when the Blazers read that perfectly, forcing Horford to hang onto the ball, Horford knew that it was on him to be the aggressive presence the Celtics undoubtedly need in the absence of Kyrie Irving. 

As easy as Horford made it look on a four-second possession -- and on a play that was not designed for him, no less -- the supposed-to-be-relaxing Super Bowl Sunday game was anything but.

Go back to when this game was tied at 75-75.

Though the Garden came to life at the Jayson Tatum jumper, the Blazers immediately stormed back down and collected the game’s next six points, beginning with a Portland offensive rebound and subsequent putback that never should have been.

This was a microcosm of the game to that point, which saw the Celtics stumble with turnovers, offensive fouls, and ugly misses on any and every deficit-erasing bucket.

But when given their umphteenth chance by a Blazers team that at one point led by 16 points, Tatum again drew things back even at 85-85 with 3:34 left in the fourth quarter.

The Tatum bucket was not even the most important of what was an 11-0 run for the Celtics, as the Celtics then earned their first lead since the opening minutes of the first quarter thanks to a Horford three-pointer scored just 40 seconds later.

The Blazers, of course, answered with threes from C.J. McCollum and Damian Lillard. Boston countered with yet another clutch make, this one from Terry Rozier, but the Blazers responded and successfully upped the ante behind a Lillard drive to the hoop and successful conversion of his and-one after a foul against Semi Ojeleye. 

In a first half that saw the Celtics unable to match shot-for-shot with the Blazers (the Celtics shot a woeful 31 percent in the first two quarters while the Blazers converted on 46.7 percent of their attempts), it seemed that anybody touching the ball found the C’s signature second half magic to put Horford in a game-winning position. 

And able to capture their fourth win in the five games that have seen them trailing by at least 16 points at halftime. 

“I keep saying this, but I’m just proud of the group,” said Horford. “Obviously a few guys missing, and guys stepping up tonight; Semi, Nader. I felt like we came out in the third and really established ourselves, getting some good shots and attacking the basket.”

“We never stopped fighting, we never stopped believing,” Rozier, who finished with 11 points and six rebounds, said of their comeback. “We’re still a unit. Obviously Kyrie’s not going to play every night, so we need to have that next man up mentality.”

But it helps when that next man up in clutch time is an All-Star big.

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