By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Things didn’t look good for the Celtics late on Tuesday night against the Thunder. After Russell Westbrook went 1-of-2 from the free-throw line, Oklahoma City held a five-point lead — 99-94 — over Boston with 16.8 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
The odds were not insurmountable, but they were pretty close. In fact, for every other team in that situation this season, the odds were insurmountable. Heading into last night, a team had trailed by five or more points in the final 20 seconds of a game 884 times this season in the NBA. And of those 884 teams who were trailing, none of them won. They were 0-884.
Nevertheless, the Celtics figured they’d give it a whirl. Terry Rozier buried a quick three, cutting the lead to two. Then, most improbably, Carmelo Anthony missed both of his free throws. He’s hit free throws at a rate better than 81 percent in his career, but he picked a tough time to miss two free throws.
Still, after Jayson Tatum secured the rebound, the Celtics had quite a bit of work to do. Inbounding the ball with 7.7 seconds left in the game, their play broke down quickly. But Tatum dished to Marcus Morris, who up-faked Paul George, side-stepped, and put up a 3-point shot at Steven Adams came out to contest. It was good, and the Celtics had themselves a most-improbable lead.
Westbrook’s buzzer-beating attempt was no good (and might not have counted anyway), and the Celtics’ lead stuck. Somehow, the Celtics escaped with a 100-99 victory.
What is arguably just as crazy as the win itself is the likelihood that even if Morris’ 3-point attempt rimmed out, both Rozier and Al Horford were in position for a rebound/putback to tie the game and force overtime.
Teams trailing by five or more points in the final 20 seconds of a game are now 1-884, thus raising the odds of a team completing such a comeback from 0.0 percent to 0.11 percent. As is the case with anything in sports, there’s always a chance.