Apparently there’s considerable excitement and consternation, in equal measure, about a Superb Owl, involving battling between militiamen and some very angry large birds that are not owls? Or something? Sounds weird.
Before that, the Boston Celtics had a matinee matchup vs. the Portland Trail Blazers. Kyrie Irving remained out with his quad contusion, so Terry Rozier got another chance to run point. But it was Al Horford who led a huge comeback after a great Blazer first half, to seal a Celtics victory. Anyone still think he ain’t an All-Star?
THE GAME FLOW
Boston drew first blood with consecutive smooth jumpers by Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, but then ran into an iron-fisted counterpunch from Portland, led (and almost entirely driven) by skilled big man Jusuf Nurkic. PDX’s star backcourt duo of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, meanwhile, stayed quiet, but no matter: Boston remained 5 to 10 points behind for most of the first quarter, even though the Cs got some rhythm back at the frame’s end. Our heroes shot 26 percent for Q1, which was horrible, but, all things being equal, was also likely to correct itself somewhat, due to law of averages.
That said, Brad Stevens was also, out of injury-created necessity, playing the entirety of his available lineup—not just standard bench mob guys like Daniel Theis and Semi Ojeleye, but also Guerschon Yabusele, Abdel Nader and Kadeem Allen. This didn’t exactly bode well for offensive excellence. Nader isn’t particularly great, Allen’s a mostly unknown quantity aside from limited minutes of defensive success and Yabu is incredibly raw, though still promising.
Nader and Yabusele, to their credit, did galvanize some comeback effort with threes (the latter deploying his patented bow-and-arrow dab in celebration). Horford, functioning as point guard in minutes when Rozier rested, put in good work as a facilitator and trey shooter, and also, at one point, dunked on Nurkic’s whole life and then some. But with McCollum’s scoring starting to take off, bolstered by numerous Al-Farouq Aminu and Mo Harkless threes, the Celtics probably considered themselves lucky to be down only 16 at the half, 54-38. The shooting from the field was just abysmal—31 percent.
The third quarter didn’t look much better for the Celtics at first, but they went on a decent run—20-8 for Q3’s first 9 minutes—thanks to Horford, Jaylen Brown and Aron Baynes. More importantly, they handled the Blazers with greater assurance on the defensive end, and also lucked out with a number of Blazers miscues. Horford’s accuracy from deep provided the run its heart, but it was a greater-than-sum-of-parts team effort.
Yet Portland stayed ahead 73-69 (nice) with just 12 minutes of basketball left, due in no small part to Harkless going full-chucker from behind the arc and making the most of it, with 17 points in 3 quarters. The Celtics would need maximum effort, and in the first four minutes of Q4, that’s exactly what they brought: Horford ran the offense but also took the lead as scorer, thought as Brian Scalabrine pointed out on the NBCSN broadcast, this put a lot of wear and tear on the 31-year-old big man. On defense, they were trying to grab every available rebound or loose ball, with Rozier notably getting one of his own missed treys back for a successful jumper.
The Blazers stubbornly did just enough to sustain their one- and two-possession lead during this stretch, as the quiet Lillard woke up. But at about the 3:40 mark, a Tatum triple tied the game, and if the Celtics could create a lead even with a slight margin of separation and maintain the effort they’d put forth in the rest of this quarter, good things were possible. On the next Cs possession, a series of whip-passes got Horford open for a successful trey. He nailed it to give Boston an 88-85 lead. Tatum shook Portland defenders out of their shoes on an ISO to create a jumper, and two consecutive Nurkic offensive fouls not only blew possessions for his team, but got him thrown out of the game.
CJ and Dame scored retaliatory triples after the Tatum bucket and a Brown triple, and two consecutive Lillard drives tied the game and put him at the line for a successful free throw. With a one-point lead, and seven seconds, it looked as if the Trail Blazers might escape despite blowing their massive lead earlier, and McCollum smartly fouled Brown coming out of the timeout, eating valuable moments. Jaylen had nothing to do but inbound to Horford, who did a fadeaway turnaround long 2, one of the game’s least efficient shots…and scored a buzzer-beating 97-96 win.
HOT ISH: Al Horford doing literally everything and playing one of his best games as a Celtic, ending with a final 22-10-5 line with 2 blocks; Tatum and Brown continuing their run of quality performances; Rozier putting in another good start overall despite having much fewer points than the other two games.
NOT ISH: Defense in the first half, turnovers, the young guys showing their offensive roughness. (For example,. despite his defense business booming at the Ojeleye Factory, Semi is missing a lot of threes.)
HORFORD GAME WINNER.
Breaking the Horford pattern for this last one, but no way it wouldn’t make the highlight reel.