PORTLAND, Ore. — The Celtics trailed the Blazers by 12 points early in the fourth quarter on Friday. The All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving was somewhere else, preparing for Saturday’s procedure to help his sore left knee. Marcus Smart was on the bench with his surgically-repaired right thumb in a cast, and Jaylen Brown was near him as he shakes off the last remnants of a concussion.
Portland, meanwhile, had won 9 of its last 10 home games, the lone blemish being Tuesday’s loss to the mighty Rockets. So there were plenty of reasons to believe the Celtics would recoil and just try again some other time.
But forward Marcus Morris, for one, had other ideas. He was on the bench, in the midst of yet another sterling offensive performance, and he saw how Shane Larkin was seizing control. Morris looked over at his teammates who were on the bench with him.
“If we’re able to get off to a good start,” he said, “I feel like we can get back in this game, and win it.”
Before the Celtics could even consider whether that possibility was a reality, the comeback was on. In just over three minutes, Larkin and Jayson Tatum combined to go 5 for 5 from the field and 4 for 4 from the foul line.
Just like that, Boston trailed by a point. Just like that, yet another rally had been ignited. The ending of this one was not quite as dramatic as Tuesday’s stunning win over the Thunder, but the 105-100 road victory over one of the top teams in the Western Conference was probably even more impressive.
“Happened just like that,” Morris said afterward.
Earlier Friday, the Celtics learned that Irving would undergo a minimally-invasive procedure on his troublesome left knee on Saturday. Although it is not known how long he will be sidelined, it certainly was not great news for a team that now has just 10 games left in the regular season.
Nevertheless, this team has consistently shown that it will be a factor most nights, regardless of its available personnel.
“We know what we have,” forward Al Horford said. “We can’t dwell on the guys that are not here and the guys that are injured. It’s tough, but it’s an opportunity for other guys to step up, and guys are really taking advantage. We’re trying to move forward. It’s hard, but we don’t really have another option.”
Morris had another spectacular offensive performance, pouring in a game-high 30 points, including another clutch 3-pointer in the final minute. Terry Rozier added 16 points for the Celtics, who made 11 of 18 3-pointers as a team and 24 of 26 foul shots.
With the score tied at 96, Tatum completed a tough drive through the lane for a layup. After Damian Lillard airballed a 3-pointer, the Celtics milked the shot-clock down before Morris drained a 3 as he was falling down behind the left arc, making it 101-96 with just 54.8 seconds left.
It was the second consecutive game in which Morris provided a critical 3 for Boston. On Tuesday, he drained the game-winning 3 in the final seconds of the unlikely win over the Thunder.
After a pair of free throws by Lillard, Tatum once again drove through the lane for a dunk. C.J. McCollum made an uncontested layup with 28 seconds left, and Portland elected to defend rather than commit a foul that would have extended the game.
Tatum missed a jumper from the baseline, but Horford gathered the offensive rebound and Rozier was fouled, finishing off the Blazers.
As a team in the fourth quarter, the Celtics made 11 of 17 shots, 5 of 6 three-pointers, and 11 of 12 free throws, and they committed just one turnover. The Blazers, meanwhile, were 9 of 25 overall and just 1 of 9 from beyond the three-point line, as they were outscored, 38-23.
“Five-for-six from three in a quarter is going to make for a pretty good quarter,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said. “But it’s more how they got them, going under a screen or losing a man or whatever it was. They executed well.”
And it was all sparked by Larkin’s surge at the start. If he had not changed the tenor of the game—and received a boost from Tatum — everything could have been so different.
“Up until that point, I don’t think I’d been aggressive enough during the first couple of quarters,” Larkin said. “So just getting to that fourth quarter I knew I could use my speed and quickness and shooting ability to help the team and I just made it a point to go out there and be extra aggressive and it worked in my favor.”