BOSTON • Without touching the ball on two plays, Marcus Smart helped the Boston Celtics complete the biggest comeback of the National Basketball Association (NBA) season.
The Eastern Conference leaders rallied from 26 points down to stun the Houston Rockets 99-98 at TD Garden on Thursday.
With the Celtics 97-98 down with 7.3sec left, Rockets' James Harden was called for an offensive foul after Smart was knocked down as Houston tried to inbound the ball.
That opened the door for Al Horford's game winner, with the forward sinking a hook shot with 3.7sec remaining.
Smart then drew another foul on Harden, sealing the Rockets' fate.
"It just shows the value of Marcus Smart to our group and what he does for our team," Horford said after finishing with nine points on four-of-10 shooting and pulling down eight rebounds.
"It was just a domino effect. That's how special he is."
His plays saw the Celtics top the previous biggest comeback of the season - the Golden State Warriors' rally from 24 down to beat the Philadelphia 76ers on Nov 18.
Kyrie Irving led the Celtics (29-10) with 26 points. Jayson Tatum scored 19 while Terry Rozier and Smart scored 13 apiece.
"I've had a few comebacks but this is a special one," guard Irving said. "From just how we started, it was just so ugly. They came out firing. We just had to battle back. It took a lot. It took everybody."
Boston trailed by 24 at half-time and by 26 early in the third quarter.
But the Celtics outscored 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 reserve guard Rozier, who added that Irving gathered the players for "a special talk" at half-time.
Harden scored a game-high 34 points and dished out 10 assists, but he was zero-for-seven from the field with four turnovers when defended by Smart, according to tracking by ESPN Stats & Information.
Eric Gordon added 24 points for Houston (25-8), who shot just 25 per cent in the second half.
"It was the tale of two halves," Houston coach Mike D'Antoni said after watching his team lose their fourth straight game.
When asked what he thought of the two charge calls, he replied: "It doesn't really matter. I'm worried more about the 24 points (the half-time lead) we gave up."
The Boston Celtics led for just 3.7 seconds in Thursday's game against the Houston Rockets.
Harden was more forthcoming about the officiating and highlighted the rare two-man referee crew for the nationally televised game. Referee Mark Lindsay hurt his back before the tip-off, leaving just Tony Brothers and Gediminas Petraitis for the clash between two of the league's best teams, reported ESPN.
"First of all, I'm wondering how do you only have two officials on a national TV game? That's the first question," Harden told ESPN.
"There were a lot of no-calls that need to be called, because that changed the dynamic of the game."
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