LOS ANGELES: The Boston Celtics fashioned the biggest comeback of the NBA season as they rallied from 26 points down to stun the Houston Rockets 99-98 on Thursday (Friday in Manila).
“I’ve had a few comebacks, but this is a special one,” Boston’s Kyrie Irving said after a basket by Al Horford with 3.7 seconds left gave the Celtics the win.
“From just how we started, it was just so ugly,” Irving said. “They came out firing. We just had to battle back. It took a lot. It took everybody.”
Eastern Conference leaders Boston trailed by 24 at halftime and by 26 early in the third quarter.
But the Celtics out-scored Houston 31-16 in the third, when Boston’s dominant defensive effort saw the Rockets make just four of 17 shots from the field while coughing up seven turnovers.
“We just didn’t stop believing,” said Boston’s Terry Rozier, who said Irving called the players together for “a special talk” at halftime.
The Celtics had cut the deficit to 98-97 on a dunk from Jayson Tatum with 7.3 seconds remaining.
Rockets star James Harden was then called for an offensive foul as Boston’s Marcus Smart was knocked down as Houston tried to inbound the ball.
That opened the door for Horford’s game winner, and Harden was then whistled for another offensive foul that sealed the Rockets’ fate.
The Celtics topped the previous biggest comeback of the season — the Golden State Warriors rally from 24 down to beat the Philadelphia 76ers on November 18.
Irving led the Celtics with 26 points. Tatum scored 19 while Rozier and Smart scored 13 apiece.
Horford finished with nine points, and also pulled down eight rebounds.
“First of all, (the Rockets) were unbelievable in the first half,” Boston coach Brad Stevens said. “The result doesn’t really matter. It’s the resilience that (the Celtics) showed, which they could have easily folded.”