To argue that the Rockets were heavy underdogs heading into their match against the Celtics yesterday would be to highlight the obvious. It didn’t matter that they were scheduled to do battle at the Toyota Center. As holders of the worst record in the National Basketball Association, they had just 10 wins to show in 34 outings at home. Meanwhile, they faced competition that continually rubbed elbows with the best of the best in the pro ranks.
As things turned out, the Rockets had enough to post one of the biggest upsets in the league after the All-Star break. They did battle from the get-go, and for all their supposed lack of competitiveness, they managed to stay ahead in the last 27 minutes and 41 seconds of the set-to. It wasn’t as if they put up a cushion early on to coast to triumph. Rather, they needed to keep staving off repeated rallies by the Celtics, and they did so with a relentless effort that overcame their intrinsic frailties.
Notably, the Rockets likewise benefited from no small measure of good fortune. In the game’s last sequence, the Celtics had a chance to force overtime, only to see top dog Jayson Tatum flub a seemingly open layup. Given their exertions, it would have been fair to wonder if they could last another five minutes under extreme pressure. As much as they were hungry for victory, they would not have been receptive to the psychic benefit of simply coming close.
Under the circumstances, the Rockets could be forgiven for celebrating in the aftermath as if they had just claimed the Larry O’Brien Trophy. They lingered on the court, exchanging hugs and high fives while the Celtics headed to the locker room with an unmistakable air of dejection. They took on giants and won, in the process providing proof that nothing in sports is etched in stone. Pride kept them fighting, and, if only for a day, their best prevailed.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and human resources management, corporate communications, and business development.