On the road? Against a good team? On a basket by Marcus Smart? All on the second night of a back-to-back?
Of all the heroes in all the situations in all the places, it would have taken a lot of searching to find a more improbable outcome than Celtics 117, Raptors 116 in overtime Saturday night in Toronto, a huge development in Boston’s attempt to keep its grip on the final playoff spot as the least bad team among the Eastern Conference hopefuls for No. 8.
Smart made six of nine attempts on the night, including the buzzer-beating layup, but after shooting 35.4 percent in February and 32.9 percent in March. His rookie season was ending badly, even as Boston continued to give him big minutes. And then this.
It was harder than it should have been. Smart was open under the basket, on the right side of the lane, thanks to Isaiah Thomas drawing the defense as he blew down the left side, but the dish-off was a little high. Smart grabbed it with his right hand, with no Raptor closer than a couple steps. Then he made an awkward plant to go up. At least the release was clean.
The Raptors led 116-115 on a Lou Williams three-pointer with four seconds left. The Celtics called timeout and advanced the ball to halfcourt. Thomas was near the free throw line at the other end when the referee gave the ball to Evan Turner on the sideline. Advantage: Celtics.
Thomas, fast enough without a head start, had built to lift-off speed by the time he took the pass from Turner about 40 feet from the basket, then went through the Toronto defense. He created the opportunity that Smart finished.
Large. Everything was a challenge except for the distance of the winning shot – the schedule, the location, the opponent. There has to be a special level of gratification. The importance in the standings is obvious. If the Celtics make the playoffs, this will be one of the nights that made it happen.
Eh. Several Celtics charged off the bench to embrace Smart. He got some hugs and smacks on top of his head, but there was no wild party.
The Celtics get marked down only because the win came on a wide-open layup, without a higher degree of difficulty beyond catching the ball. Everything else was big, though, from the situation and the importance to Thomas’ work. Three Horrys.