(Photo By: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Celtics Erase 26-Point Deficit To Knock Off Rockets, 99-98

What a night for the Boston Celtics as they were able to erase a 24-point halftime deficit to pull out a 99-98 win over the Houston Rockets at the TD Garden.

Tonight’s match-up brought the NBA player with the highest three-point percentage, Jayson Tatum (48.7 percent,) and the player who has attempted and made the most three-pointers, James Harden (136-345) together for an epic matchup between the East and West.

Marcus Morris returned to the floor for his second straight game since returning on Christmas Day against the Washington Wizards after dealing a lingering knee issue. But the Celtics were still without Jaylen Brown (knee) for the second straight game, along with Semi Ojeleye (back) for a third straight game. The Rockets were without a laundry list of players headlined by Chris Paul (left adductor strain.) Even the NBA officiating staff was short-handed tonight with only two referees on the floor when there are normally three and it really showed throughout the game with questionable and missed calls up and down the floor.

The Rockets launched out of the locker room on fire, jumping out to a 12-0 lead in the first three minutes after nailing a pair of threes and knocking down a few more buckets.

It was a tough first quarter for the Celtics as they struggled to control the ball (eight turnovers), knock down jumpers (28.6 FG) and defend the paint, which lead to a Rockets 32-12 lead at the end of the first. And once halftime rolled around, the Rockets held a 62-38 lead over the Celtics. In a game where threes would be come in abundance, the Rockets knocked down 10-of-24 from three in comparison to the Celtics’ 4-of-12.

The tide really started to turn for the Celtics right around halfway through the third, when they stepped up their defensive effort and buckled down in the paint. It all started with a key block by Marcus Smart that led to a shot clock violation, after a forced turnover by Kyrie Irving that led to a fast-break layup. You could say this series of events sparked the Celtics offensive push that lead to a 21-7 run, that cut the deficit to nine to close out the third.

Down as much as 26 points at one point in the second, the Celtics were able to pull within two points with almost three minutes left in the fourth and one point with 2:40 to play in the fourth.

The Celtics force the Rockets to burn their final two timeouts with 13.5 left to the play, thanks to the Celtics on-ball in-bounding defense. Then with less than 10 seconds to play they continued their strong defensive effort and forced a costly turnover on a Harden offensive foul. Al Horford then followed it up with a huge layup giving the Celtics a one-point lead with three-seconds to play. The Celtics buckled down on the final Rockets possession, forcing Harden into another offensive foul and returning the ball back to the Celtics to seal the deal on what could be the Celtics best win of the young season.

James Harden led all scorers with 34 points (7-27 FG/5-15 3PT/15-15 FT), 10 assists and six rebounds. Kyrie Irving led all Celtics scorers with 26 points (9-18 FG/1-6 3PT), four rebounds and four assists. Jayson Tatum dropped 19 points (5-11 FG/0-3 3PT/9-11 FT), to go with five rebounds. Terry Rozier and Marcus Morris both contributed double-digit points off the bench. The Celtics stepped up around the rim in the second half, finishing with 56 points in the paint and 44 rebounds compared to the Rockets’ 43.

UP NEXT: The Celtics welcome the Brooklyn Nets to the TD Garden on New Year's Eve (Sunday) for a 5:30 p.m. tip-off. Catch the call of the game with Sean Grande and Cedric Maxwell live on 98.5 The Sports Hub, with pre-game coverage beginning at 5:00 p.m.

Other Celtics Notes: The Celtics’ G-League affiliate, the Maine Red Claws, acquired former No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett earlier in the day. According to the Celtics, the Red Claws got Bennett and a 2018 third-round G League draft pick and in return they sent the Northern Arizona Suns Wesley Lowry and a second-round pick.

--  By John 'The Dude' Hardiman, 985TheSportsHub.com

John Hardiman is a Digital Producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for John? Hit him up on Twitter @HardiDude!