As Celtics players swarmed each other after the final buzzer of a 112-111 triumph, the broadcast cameras caught typically stoic coach Brad Stevens wearing a wide smile as he watched the mob.
You know it’s quite a win when you catch typically stoic Brad Stevens smiling as his player swam each other after buzzer. pic.twitter.com/WEu8Yfa04K
— Chris Forsberg (@ESPNForsberg) December 19, 2017
This is a man who likes to celebrate heart-stopping triumphs with a brisk, cross-armed walk to the locker room. Go find Roosevelt Jones’ game-winner against Gonzaga on YouTube or Jeff Green’s 3-pointer in Miami and just focus on how Stevens barely flinches at either.
That smile on Monday night, fleeting as it was, hammered home just how the improbability of Boston’s late-game rally. The Celtics had fumbled away a 19-point first-half lead only to find themselves down five with under 30 seconds to play. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, NBA teams were 0-379 when trailing by five or more in the final 30 seconds of games this season entering Monday night’s action.
Make it 1-379 after Terry Rozier’s interception/dunk that had veteran Al Horford hitching a celebratory piggyback ride from big man Aron Baynes as Celtics players jubilantly raced to the locker room at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
According to Stats & Information research, teams trailing by five or more in the final 30 seconds of games have a winning percentage of .002 over the past 20 NBA seasons.
The Celtics’ last-second win in Indy features a great defensive play by Terry Rozier, with the whole sequence being predicted by Celtics color commentator Brian Scalabrine.
The anatomy of Boston’s improbable 30-second comeback:
Bojan Bogdanovic puts the ball in the air in an effort to send it to Victor Oladipo, but Terry Rozier gets the steal and takes it the other way for a one-handed slam — and a Celtics victory.
Victor Oladipo scored just eight first-half points on a measly three field goal attempts. But he sparked Indiana’s second-half comeback while scoring 30 of his game-high 38 points after the intermission. The Pacers were clinging to a one-possession lead when Oladipo drove hard at Horford, faked twice, then leaned in for a layup that put the Pacers up 107-102 with 31.3 seconds to go. ESPN’s win probability chart put the Pacers at 91.8 percent favorites at that moment (and that might have been conservative).
After a timeout, the Celtics forced the Pacers to switch as Kyrie Irving caught an inbounds pass in the corner beyond the 3-point arc. Despite having 6-foot-10 big man Domantas Sabonis in front of him, Irving elected to put up a quick 3-pointer that found its way home. Boston’s Jaylen Brown got whistled for a foul after the shot, putting the Pacers at the free-throw line but with no time coming off the clock. Lance Stephenson made both freebies to make it a two-possession game again.
Marcus Smart made a strong dash at the basket and got a 6-foot floater to bounce in. The Celtics fouled again and Oladipo made both free throws to put the Pacers out front 111-107 with 19 seconds to play.
The Celtics didn’t exactly go quick on the ensuing possession and Smart had to wait for Irving to fight his way through traffic. Horford’s extended backside created just enough space for Irving to catch and shoot a straightaway 3-pointer with Cory Joseph chasing. The Pacers called their final timeout up 111-110 with 9.3 seconds remaining.
Stevens subbed in Shane Larkin for Jayson Tatum during the timeout and it would prove important. As the Pacers tried to milk as much time off the clock as possible, it was a leaping Larkin who, after charging at Bojan Bogdanovic, forced the forward to arc his pass high while trying to send the ball to uncovered Oladipo, who Larkin had abandoned, near midcourt. Rozier, who had been near the free-throw line, sprinted out at Oladipo at the very instant that Bodganovic started his passing motion. Rozier, who often touts his defensive back-like abilities, outleaped Oladipo for the ball and managed to poke it forward toward the Boston basket. Collecting it near the 3-point line, Rozier took one dribble before elevating for a rare dunk (something he’s often teased by teammates for not doing more often).
With 1.6 seconds on the clock and no timeouts, the Pacers settled for a 57-foot Darren Collison heave (that was alarmingly online). As the Celtics celebrated, the Pacers were left to question a decision to try to eat up the clock on their previous possession. Bogdanovic is a career 86.1 percent free-throw shooter and would have had a good chance to put the Pacers up 3 with only seconds to go if he had simply taken the foul from Larkin.
The Celtics were in danger of losing for the fourth time in seven outings. Instead, they escaped with the sort of win that can sometimes jump-start a team in a bit of a funk.
Irving, who finished with 30 points, including eight in clutch time (game within five points in the final five minutes), slipped past former teammate LeBron James and now leads the NBA in clutch-time scoring (87 points in 57 clutch minutes).
“Glad to join history for this season,” Irving told reporters in Indiana when told of the rarity of Boston’s late-game rally. “It comes down to that final buzzer and you don’t stop playing until it goes off.”