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ICYMI: The Rockets Have Math, but the Celtics Have Smarts

Everything you need to know about Thursday in the NBA

NBA: Houston Rockets at Boston Celtics Photo by Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports

All the need-to-know info from Thursday’s slate.


Wicked Smaht, Marcus

Boston led in its Thursday night game against the Rockets for all of three seconds.

After a 38-point first half (one point better than their season-worst), including a first-quarter with eight turnovers and a 26-point deficit, the Jaylen Brown-less Celtics beat Houston, 99-98, despite 34 points from James Harden. Al Horford took the final shot, this backed-down beauty—

—but Marcus Smart drew the offensive foul that made it happen.

On the next inbound—what could’ve realistically been a 3.7-seconds-left, launched 3-pointer, James Harden game-winner special—Smart drew another foul … from …

… JAMES HARDEN!

Here it is in full:

Smart’s tight and, well, smart defense, partnered with Harden’s late-game disintegration, made the “how” of the incredible 26-point comeback a secondary storyline. Boston had a redeeming third quarter, nearly doubling the 16 points it allowed the Rockets, who only made four shots from the field the entire clip.

Harden Calls Out The League

A quick preface to Harden’s comments: The third referee in the crew set to officiate the Boston/Houston game hurt his back in the pregame warmups; the league was unable to replace him, and the game continued with two referees.

Harden was noticeably frustrated with what he argued were no-calls in the final quarter, and also the two that were called on him in the closing seconds.

Can We Pass on a Pass?

Orlando Snaps Nine-Game Losing Streak

Aaron Gordon—excuse me, Air Gordon—is back:

AG returned from his five-game absence (strained right calf) to give the Magic their first win, 102-89, since December 6. Frank Vogel tested out his 15th starting lineup of the season—Elfrid Payton, Evan Fournier (who just returned from missing eight games), Jonathon Simmons, Gordon, and Bismack Biyombo—but it was Mo Speights going full Mo Buckets off the bench that ultimately put Orlando past the Pistons.

Speights scored the Magic’s final nine points of the third quarter to close it 77-73, and finished with 16 total. He and Biyombo (12 points, 13 rebounds) held down the frontcourt in the absence of regular starter Nikola Vucevic, who broke his finger Saturday, good for Orlando’s 78th-ish injury of the season. Two thoughts:

  • Maybe we should start calling the Magic the Hex
  • Maybe two wrongs (or wrong … centers) do make a right

Joel’s Reverse Psychology

CP3 and CP2

Here’s to hoping State Farm killed off Cliff Paul to sign this kid. Let’s keep tabs on the name Christopher Emmanuel Paul II for these handles (also because he’s adorable).

Is Something About Elfrid Payton, Besides His Hair, Becoming … Consistent?

In the five games before Thursday’s, Payton averaged 19.2 points, 7.4 assists, 4.8 rebounds, and 1.2 steals. (All five were losses, sure, but stay with me.)

Against the Pistons, Payton finished with a team-high 19 points, shot 50 percent on 12 field goal attempts, made it to the line six times, and then made all six shots (!). This is a guy whose shot has met such failure that hours have been spent investigating if his hair could be affecting his shot. Entering the game, Payton was shooting just one percentage point better than DeAndre Jordan from the free-throw line this season. Could his past six games be enough to dust off Orlando’s early-season hope? Probably not. Besides, does Orlando … remember what hope is?

Maybe Minnesota’s Frontcourt Defense Isn’t As Bad As We Think …

… Or maybe rims make for excellent sixth men.

Does Giannis Ever Make His Fitbit Step-Count Goal Doing This Shit?

Bazz and the Big Ballers

Portland was Damian Lillard-less again on Thursday as it muscled a 114-110 comeback against the Sixers. Jusuf Nurkic vs. Joel Embiid went down exactly as you knew it would, with Embiid making a career-high six 3-pointers (and taking a career-high 12), Nurkic dropping Embiid into a 3-point stance—

—and Embiid smashing Nurkic’s nose.

THINK AGAIN. Only Nurkic busts Nurkic’s nose.

The Blazers have now won their fifth game in the last eight, while also snapping a six-game losing streak (?) at home. Philly lost despite leading by 18 points in the third, courtesy of C.J. McCollum being up to his usual tricks (those tricks being finishing with 34 points), and Shabazz Napier scoring 22 second-half points, as opposed to the one point he managed in the first.

Bazz finished with a season-high 23 points on 50 percent shooting and added three assists and three steals.

Embiid put up 29 points, nine rebounds, and three assists, while Nurk had 21 points and 12 boards.

Nobody Boos the Bucks Into the Corner

They booed Jason Kidd. They booed the Bucks.

“They” meaning the Bradley Center. The Bucks were heckled by their home crowd while down 20 points in the third, and it was looking like Milwaukee would take another loss after dropping five of its last seven.

The Bucks won, 102-96, and while I can’t confirm that the boos stopped, Eric Bledsoe and Giannis Antetokounmpo did quiet the Wolves. Minnesota was on the second night of a back-to-back (and playing its third game in four nights); their overtime win Wednesday against the Nuggets left them more worked than usual (looking at you, Thibs) and cost them Jeff Teague, who suffered a knee injury that left him sidelined Thursday.

Milwaukee erased its 20-point deficit by stalling Minnesota’s production in the final clip and held them to their lowest-scoring fourth quarter of the season with just 12 points. The Bucks went on a 48-22 run to end the game, and Bledsoe and Giannis combined for 48 points.