There are very few assignments or jobs these days that I get truly excited for, but this past weekend was an exception as I was assigned to cover the NBA game between the Houston Rockets the Boston Celtics. There were so many storylines surrounding this game, most notably the Rockets holding the best record in the league and riding a 14-game win streak. It was also a game where Houston was looking for revenge as the Celtics beat them in Boston earlier in the year. And to top it off, the game was shown on ABC as part of the NBA Saturday Night Showcase, meaning a national audience would be tuning in. And the game didn’t disappoint in the slightest.
The game got off to a fast start as both teams were hitting their shots early on. Houston built an eight point lead, 28-20, before Boston closed the quarter on a 12-2 run to lead, 32-30. The Celtics continued rolling in the second quarter as their bench led the way with baskets all over the court, frustrating Houston’s defense. Boston’s lead reached as high as nine points (47-38) before Houston was able to tie it at 50-all with four minutes left. Again, the Celtics closed strong to go into halftime leading, 64-58.
Boston was able to keep the Rockets at bay during the third quarter, pushing their lead as high as eight points (70-62) before Houston countered by hitting two straight three-pointers (74-73), forcing a timeout with 5:51 left. As the play got more physical, the Celtics started to flounder as Houston eventually took the lead, 75-74. The Rockets’ lead was short-lived as the Celtics kept attacking inside AND out. The back-and-forth third quarter ended with Boston leading, 89-86, paced by their bench who had 45 points.
Both teams showed no signs of slowing down in the fourth quarter, but the Celtics’ bench kept Houston at arm’s length for the majority of the fourth quarter, and Boston still lead 113-107 with four minutes left. From that point on, the Rockets tightened the screws defensively, forcing two turnovers leading to five points in less than twenty seconds to take the lead, 117-115. After a plethora of free-throws, the Rockets sweated out a last-second miss to win the game, 123-120. Even with both James Harden and Kyrie Irving having so-so nights (Irving had 18 points on 6-for-17 shooting while Harden scored 26 points on 6-for-18 shooting), the play of the benches and the action down the stretch gave the matchup some real spice and flavor (Boston’s bench scored 67 points while Eric Gordon for the Rockets scored 29 points, 13 of which came in the fourth quarter).
Well, what more can be said? The game this past Saturday night didn’t just live up to the hype, it exceeded it and it could be a possible preview of the NBA Finals in three months’ time. A back-and-forth game, intense atmosphere, great crowd, it was a real privilege to be at the forefront of history once again.
All images copyright 2018 Erik Williams/USA Today Sports Images