WASHINGTON — If this is part of the growing process, losing 7-point leads in both overtimes, making offensive errors down the stretch, allowing the opposing point guard to get to the paint at will, then this Celtics season with have its share of excruciating moments.
The Celtics played well enough to win Monday night against the Washington Wizards, storming back from a 23-point deficit, but they couldn’t make that one decisive play to seal it. And John Wall simply took over, scoring Washington’s final 10 points for a 133-132 double-overtime win at Verizon Center.
The Celtics had one final chance to win, but Evan Turner’s 20-footer hit back rim, concluding one of the more emotionally taxing games of the season.
Celtics coach Brad Stevens stuck with mostly reserves for the final 27-plus minutes, benching Rajon Rondo, Jared Sullinger, and Avery Bradley and going with Marcus Smart, Kelly Olynyk, Brandon Bass, and Turner to join Jeff Green.
The combination was brilliant for the most part, but couldn’t grab that key defensive rebound in the first OT and then was steamrolled by the gazelle Wall in the second OT.
The critical play occurred with the Celtics leading, 132-130, with the ball with 52.9 seconds left.
Instead of working the clock and looking for a quality shot, Smart launched a 3-pointer off the inbounds pass that hit back rim. Bradley Beal rebounded and fed Wall, who raced between Smart and Turner for the tying layup and foul call.
Turner, who said he never touched Wall, was not happy with the officiating.
“He made a good play going to the rack and he got the bucket, but the and-one was garbage,” Turner said. “That was a horrible call and it went like that the whole game.
“John stepped up and hit some big, big, big, big, big shots, but right there he got the bucket and did his thing to tie the game, but it was Christmas early.”
Smart finished with 23 points in 35 minutes, his best performance of the season and stunning considering he had played 13 rather unproductive minutes since returning from a badly sprained left ankle. He drained 4 of 8 3-point attempts, including a couple with supreme confidence, but he lamented that final miss that led to the Wall one-man fast break.
“I already hit four, so you know, when I came off the screen, I saw John [Wall] was nowhere near me, I was wide open,” he said. “I thought it was a good shot. But it probably wasn’t with the time and score. It’s something I have to learn from and don’t let it happen next time.”
Stevens couldn’t be angry at Smart or his team because of the stirring comeback. After a Wall layup, Washington led, 88-65, with 2:28 left in the third quarter and the Wizards were coasting. The Celtics then went on an 11-0 run and eventually trailed, 92-76, entering the fourth.
With Bass and Olynyk pounding the boards, Smart harassing Wall, and Turner stuck to Beal, the Celtics began getting stops and were playing with more energy. They trailed, 102-88, with 7:39 left in regulation and then went on a 15-0 run with Turner draining a go-ahead 3-pointer with 3:21 left.
When it appeared the Wizards would prevail when Kris Humphries was fouled with 16.4 seconds left and Washington leading by 2, the former Celtic missed the second free throw and the Celtics frantically raced down the court. Olynyk missed a 3-pointer from top of the key, but Green knocked the ball to Turner, who stepped back and drained a 3-pointer from the side with 0.6 left. The Celtics’ bench, with four starters on ice, went into a frenzy.
“No-brainer,” Stevens said about playing the reserves. “I mean those guys deserved to play at the end because they got us right back in it. It was nothing against the guys that started, it’s just when you go down from 20-whatever, we were back in the game. Those guys deserve to play. We just didn’t quite have enough, but we came a bounce away from having enough.”
The first OT was perhaps the most frustrating. The Celtics jumped to a 119-112 lead with 2:04 left and got a Wall miss, only for center Marcin Gortat to grab the rebound and complete a 3-point play.
The Boston offense then became stagnant, leaving Paul Pierce with a chance to even the game and, of course, he did with a 3-pointer with 38.2 seconds left.
As has been their pattern, the Celtics were close to completely blowing the lead and losing in the first OT, but Wall missed and Humphries swatted the rebound out to Bass, who raced to the basket with Pierce defending. But his running bank shot missed at the buzzer.
“Oh my God, that play there, I thought Paul Pierce was going to be part of my highlight tape. Hey, next time, next time,” Bass said. “I think we gained something from [the game]. Don’t know right now what, but something.”