WASHINGTON — The Celtics were on the verge of overcoming a horrendous outside shooting performance Saturday when they clawed back from a 6-point deficit with less than four minutes left in regulation and forced overtime.
At the start of the extra session, Boston’s plan was clear: The team wanted to attack Wizards center Montrezl Harrell, who had given the Celtics fits over this two-game set but was saddled with five fouls. There was a good chance that Harrell would either collect his sixth foul and give the Celtics a boost by heading to the bench, or ease up on defense to ensure that he stayed on the court, leading to some easy chances.
For two minutes, the approach seemed perfect.
“We were really going at him the first three plays,” Celtics coach Ime Udoka said after Boston lost, 115-112, in double overtime. “He let guys go.”
In a blink, Al Horford converted a layup over Harrell and Dennis Schroder went at Harrell for another basket at the rim. By the time Jayson Tatum drilled an open 16-footer 90 seconds into the extra session, Boston had a 109-103 lead and it appeared that Washington was on the verge of a collapse.
The odds shifted even further in Boston’s favor after Tatum swatted a Harrell layup attempt and Kyle Kuzma’s ensuing jumper was off, too. But Boston would not score again in that overtime, missing a golden chance to secure an unlikely victory.
A common theme developed as the cold streak lengthened: On a night the Celtics made just 2 of 26 3-pointers, they continued to fire away from the perimeter, often in isolation situations that were preceded by limited ball movement.
And the perimeter struggles were likely exacerbated by the fact that at that point in the game the Celtics, who were missing starters Robert Williams and Marcus Smart, were playing on tired legs that make outside shooting even more of a chore.
Boston was 0 for 6 from the field over the final 3:27 of the first overtime, and none of those shots came at the rim. In fact, the closest attempt was an awkward 8-footer that Al Horford flung up as he was falling down. The Celtics did not attempt a free throw in that overtime session, either, as Harrell, who had been on his heels moments later, suddenly had a free pass.
“My mind-set and our mind-set for putting [Harrell] into actions was get downhill and get to the basket knowing he’s going to have to foul out or let you get a basket,” Udoka said. “We may have settled for a few perimeter shots that we didn’t need to, especially with how successful we were attacking in the first three possessions.”
The Celtics got some decent looks down the stretch, but there were also possessions during which ball movement was nonexistent. The cold streak started when Tatum, who scuffled through a 10-for-32 shooting night, missed a 20-footer in an isolation situation. Boston got the ball back when it went out of bounds, but Josh Richardson’s catch-and-shoot from the right baseline — a good, clean look — was off.
Jaylen Brown slid free for an open 3-pointer from the left arc, but it missed. Surprisingly, that was the only field goal attempt of the first overtime for Brown, who had 34 points on 14-for-24 shooting and had immense success attacking the rim throughout the game, with 28 of his 34 points coming in the paint.
Tatum then missed a contested pull-up three before the Celtics finally got back to going at Harrell. But the Wizards center held his ground and Horford was unable to get to the hoop, ultimately lobbing the awkward 8-footer that missed.
With the score tied at 109, Udoka elected not to call a timeout as Dennis Schroder dribbled upcourt on the final possession of the first overtime. Udoka said he did not want to give the Wizards a chance to make defensive substitutions.
The Celtics tried to find Brown, who twice tried to shed a defender and get the ball on the perimeter, but Kentavious Caldwell-Pope did well to deny him.
“I was trying to get the ball into my hands to make a play,” Brown said. “I thought I made some good plays down the stretch to help us get back into the game. I was trying to get the ball back. But I just wanted us to get a good shot, for us to get a win.”
Schroder ultimately found Tatum, who faced a double team with the clock running down and settled for another long, errant jumper from the right baseline at the buzzer.