James Harden meltdown vs. Marcus Smart completes stunning Celtics rally over Rockets

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Jason Owens
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For most of the night, the story of Thursday’s matchup between the Celtics and Houston Rockets looked like another chapter in the continued decline of Boston’s season after a scorching start.

The Rockets raced out to a 32-12 first-quarter lead and held a 62-38 edge at halftime. With Chris Paul on the sidelines. In Boston.

But Houston’s offense went stagnant in the second half, with the Rockets managing just five points halfway through a third quarter that eventually saw Boston cut its deficit to a manageable 78-69.

The Celtics continued to chip away in the fourth, but still looked like a long shot with the Rockets holding possession and a 98-97 lead with 7.3 seconds remaining.

Then James Harden lost his mind.

James Harden had a meltdown for the ages to help Boston secure a win Thursday. (AP)
James Harden had a meltdown for the ages to help Boston secure a win Thursday. (AP)

Harden, who had just watched Celtics guard Marcus Smart assist on a Jayson Tatum dunk to cut Houston’s lead to one, was closely guarded by Smart on Houston’s inbounds play. And he threw him to the ground.

Dead-ball offensive foul. Turnover.

The play led to this bucket by Al Horford to give the Celtics a 99-98 lead and send the home crowd into a frenzy.

Horford’s score left Houston with possession, 3.7 seconds left and no timeout to advance the ball past halfcourt. Not ideal, but plenty of time for the league’s most prolific offense to find a bucket. If anyone can score here, it’s the Rockets.

But then, this. James Harden did it again.

As Trevor Ariza looked to inbound the ball, Harden plowed right through a very pesky Smart and knocked him to the ground.

Dead-ball foul. Turnover. Ball game. Meltdown complete. Boston wins, 99-98.

It was a remarkable scene that played out on a prime TNT Thursday night slot. The loss is the fourth straight for a suddenly reeling Rockets team struggling in the absence of Chris Paul, who missed his third straight game with an adductor strain.

It’s safe to say that Harden isn’t the first player to let Smart get under his skin. Smart has a reputation as a tough, physical, irritating defender. And a flopper. The next time he’s called dirty won’t be the first.

But it’s hard to recall a meltdown like Harden’s against Smart or any other defender from an NBA professional. Much less a leading MVP candidate.


Jason Owens is a writer for Yahoo Sports