The Boston Celtics and Houston Rockets came into their Leap Day rematch as two of the hottest teams in the NBA.
Would the Rockets repeat as victors with their ultra-small, high-octane lineup? Or would the emergence of third-year wing Jayson Tatum as one of the league’s best players since the Feb. 11 loss to Houston?
Boston won the tip, and scored first with a Jaylen Brown layup followed by a Tatum block on the other end. The Rockets stayed close early, but Marcus Smart’s and Brown’s aggressive play kept Houston at bay, even building a 28-19 lead to end the first quarter.
Guard Russell Westbrook began to heat up early in the second frame, but so did Tatum, pushing the lead to 37-23 with 9:30 left in the half.
Jaylen giving Harden the "bring-it-on" claps. pic.twitter.com/nxvOMV8eXO
— Taylor Snow (@taylorcsnow) March 1, 2020
Boston would push the lead as high as 14 before James Harden started to get in rhythm as well, cutting the lead to eight before Westbrook undercut Smart and earned a flagrant-1 for his efforts.
The half would end on a Harden drive to the basket expertly blocked by center Daniel Theis, sending the Houston star sprawling and the Celtics into the break up 56-45.
The third frame began with a trip for Brown to the charity stripe, converting one, but the Rockets would soon cut the lead to 59-52 on a Robert Covington trey, and a three-point game on a PJ Tucker 3-pointer with just under eight minutes remaining in the penultimate frame.
Rockets had 7 turnovers in the first quarter but just 4 since. Celtics have been slow to the ball, looking like tired legs.
— Adam Himmelsbach (@AdamHimmelsbach) March 1, 2020
Harden would retake the lead for the Rockets with another trey at roughly the six-minute mark, but Brown would take right back with a three of his own.
Boston and Houston traded buckets for the rest of the third quarter, the Rockets coming out on top 81-78 to start the game’s final frame.
The fourth quarter began like the third, but with reserve guard Brad Wanamaker making a trip to the line to cut the lead to one before Tatum would draw a flagrant for extending his leg shooting, hitting guard Eric Gordon in the nether regions and pushing Houston to an 85-80 lead.
Boston would weather the storm, and Tatum would tie it back up at 87 with just under eight minutes to go, forcing a Rockets time out.
The Rockets looked like they’d sneak out of the Garden with a win after making a few key late buckets, but a last-second trey on a broken play by Brown would send the game to overtime with a 104-up tie.
The two juggernauts would continue to trade body blows in the extra period, coming down to the final seconds. Houston would edge Boston 111-110, which saw Harden win it at the charity stripe with just seconds left to play.
— Boston Celtics (@celtics) March 1, 2020
While it was an unfortunate ending to one of the best games of the season, that Boston was nearly able to steal the win despite going ice-cold in the fourth quarter bodes well for the future.
With a healthy Kemba Walker back in the fold, this team may be able to beat any team in the league.
The Boston Celtics next face the Brooklyn Nets at TD Garden on Tuesday, March 3rd at 7:30pm ET.