WASHINGTON — As the second quarter ended Saturday, Wizards center Montrezl Harrell caught a pass at midcourt and heaved up a shot that caromed off the backboard and in. It was a rare, lucky result, and given what was transpiring at the other end of the floor, it had to make the Celtics feel pretty crummy.
Boston opened the game by missing 20 consecutive 3-pointers, a stretch that should generally make a victory unfathomable. But the scoreboard continued to insist that the Celtics had a chance, with a tense and taut game that spilled into a second overtime and presented Boston with several opportunities to steal an improbable win.
In the end, though, Jaylen Brown had the ball stripped by Kentavious Caldwell-Pope as he looked to fire up a game-tying 3-pointer, and Washington escaped with a 115-112 double-overtime victory.
When time ran out, Caldwell-Pope tracked down the ball and spiked it high into the air as he flexed his muscles. At the other end of the floor, the Celtics’ heads were lowered as they walked slowly back to their bench.
Boston had opportunities to win at the end of regulation and the first overtime, but Brown and Jayson Tatum both missed contested jump-shots.
Brown finished with 34 points on 14-for-24 shooting and Tatum added 27 but made just 10 of 32 shots. The Celtics, who were missing starters Robert Williams and Marcus Smart due to non-COVID illnesses, finished 2 for 26 from beyond the arc.
“For sure we have to start figuring things out,” Brown said. “I think we will. But I don’t think anybody is hanging their heads or sagging their shoulders. I think that we all kind of know that we’re close.”
This season remains in its infancy and early results are always magnified, but the Celtics’ 2-4 start has not provided reason for great optimism. Boston has yet to play a top-tier team, yet it suddenly finds itself lurking near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings.
After Wednesday’s home loss to Washington, coach Ime Udoka blasted his team for its effort and focus. But he and the players struck a considerably more upbeat tone after nearly snatching this road win despite a grisly shooting night.
“They accepted the challenge and they played extremely hard tonight,” Udoka said. “Like I said, no complaining about that at all. You wish the offensive end would have caught up to our defense.”
He pointed out that Washington scored fewer points in double overtime Saturday (115) than it did in regulation on Wednesday (116). The Celtics blocked eight shots, had 10 steals, and held the Wizards to 36.5 percent shooting.
On most nights, that would be more than enough for a win. But 2 for 26 3-point shooting will always negate a promising defensive effort.
“We’re almost there,” guard Josh Richardson said. “I feel like once we get some more continuity on the offensive side of the ball, I think that hopefully we’ll be able to finish these games out a little quicker. Sometimes it’s an adjustment period. No need to panic.”
It was the Celtics’ third overtime game and the second that reached double-overtime. Brown, who said Friday that he has dealt with joint pain and has had difficulty bouncing back after games since his bout with COVID-19, played 47 minutes but vowed to be ready for Monday’s game against the resurgent Bulls.
Washington had the ball and a 3-point lead with less than a minute left in regulation before Brown came up with a steal and coasted in for a layup. After a Spencer Dinwiddie miss, Brown pushed upcourt and hit an 18-footer that gave Boston a 103-102 lead with 20.3 seconds left.
After a timeout, Dinwiddie missed a runner in the paint but gathered his own rebound and was fouled on his second attempt, with 3.8 seconds left. He made one of two free throws to tie the score, and Brown’s 20-footer at the buzzer was off, forcing overtime.
“I thought I got a good look,” Brown said. “Came up short.”
The Celtics scored the first 6 points of the extra session and appeared in control, but the offense stalled. Udoka said he wanted the team to attack Harrell, who had five fouls and was reluctant to collect a sixth, but Boston began to settle for jump-shots on a night that jump-shots were not falling.
Washington scored the next 6 points and Tatum’s baseline jumper at the buzzer was off, leading to a second overtime. Both teams appeared fatigued in the final session, with both coaches mostly leaning on their starters. A layup by Tatum was the only field goal either team scored over the first four minutes.
Boston led, 112-111, when Tatum was fouled on a drive with 1:16 left. But the Wizards challenged the call and won, regaining possession. Seemingly refreshed after the lengthy review, Bradley Beal attacked for a layup. After a Tatum attempt inside rattled out, Dinwiddie hit a baseline runner that gave the Wizards a 115-112 lead with 20.6 seconds left.
Boston appeared finished when it threw the ball away on the ensuing possession, but then the Wizards somehow did the same, giving the Celtics a final chance with 10 seconds left. The possession appeared unsettled, however, and Brown had the ball stripped before he could fire up a desperation 25-footer.
“We had every chance to win this game,” Brown said.