WASHINGTON — Brad Stevens can’t make any excuses about lineups or being shorthanded. The players he used extensively Tuesday against the Washington Wizards are the ones who will be playing heavy minutes during the postseason.
With a chance to ensure that they would be avoiding the mercurial Wizards in the first round, the Celtics simply were inept offensively after halftime, as John Wall dominated in a 113-101 Washington win at Capital One Arena.
A Celtics win would have dropped Washington to the eighth seed and a first-round matchup with the Toronto Raptors. Now, of the eight scenarios of Wednesday’s final regular-season games involving the Bucks, Wizards, and Heat, two would have Washington heading to TD Garden this weekend for Games 1 and 2.
Stevens and the players noted the lack of effort and energy, despite a day off and motivation to win, with them locked into the No. 2 seed.
“We didn’t have a tremendous effort on our part on either side,” Stevens said. “Our offense is going to be what it is. But transition defense, moving the ball, sharing the ball . . . the last group [with three minutes left] that came in did a great job of that. That’s the way we need to play.
“Defensively we can’t be a sieve either.”
And then there were the emotions of Jaylen Brown, who scored 21 first-quarter points on 6-for-9 shooting and five 3-pointers. He scored 6 points on 2-for-9 shooting in the final three quarters.
When asked whether the Washington defense made adjustments or the ball just stopped moving, Brown said: “I don’t know. No comment.”
Brown said it’s going to take a concerted effort to mentally prepare for the playoffs and losing four of the past five games without five key players is a cause for concern.
“We have a lot of vets that have been there, so just listening to them talk, and also games like this is really a gauge where we are at,” he said. “Brad is pretty clear on his idea on how he wants to play, so everybody is going to have to adapt and I think Brad made that clear today.”
Brown got no help offensively as Jayson Tatum, Al Horford, Terry Rozier, and Marcus Morris combined for 1o-for-43 shooting and 3-for-17 from the 3-point line.
Meanwhile, the Celtics defense couldn’t keep up with the speedy Wall, who either attacked the basket or found a teammate for an open corner 3-pointer. Wall had 29 points and 12 assists. The Wizards were 15 of 30 from the 3-point line and 9-for-14 in the second half.
“It is obviously different hearing about [Washington’s up-tempo style] then seeing it full speed,” Brown said. “We have a lot of young guys on our team, and we are trying to get ready for that level of intensity in the playoffs, and I do not think Washington played nearly as well as they could have, and we still fell short.
“So it is just a mind-set, a level of focus that we just have to get back to, and there is an understanding that this is it and we have to come out and compete. Getting in that mind-set is what it is going to take.”
Washington (43-38) still has to win in Orlando in the season finale for a chance to face the Celtics or even move up to the sixth seed. The Wizards are tied with the Miami Heat for seventh place in the conference, with the Bucks (44-27) sitting in sixth.
The Bucks can wrap up No. 6 spot with a win at Philadelphia Wednesday night. Meanwhile, the Raptors will play in Miami and the Celtics will come home to take on the Nets.
It was apparent the Wizards played Tuesday’s game with an eye on the Celtics for a potential playoff series.
“There are a lot of things we can take from [the win],” said Wizards guard Bradley Beal (19 points). “We can’t let Jaylen get going early on like that. He’s a guy who can score the ball in a variety of ways and his 3-point shot has gotten a lot better. What we did on him in the second half is a reflection of what we should have done in the first half. I think it is definitely a testament of what we are capable of doing. If we end up seeing them in the playoffs, I think we have an idea in mind of how to play them.”
The Wizards entered Tuesday having lost four consecutive games. A team that was projected to challenge Cleveland, Toronto, and the Celtics in the Eastern Conference was now simply trying to avoid being the last team to make the playoff field.
Wall displayed in the first half why the Celtics would want to avoid that first-round matchup. He went into intermission with 16 points on 4-for-9 shooting from the field and 6 of 7 from the free throw line.
Wall, in his fourth game back after missing two months with knee surgery, still looked a step slower than usual, but he was able to repeatedly get to the basket, helping Washington rally from an 8-point first-period deficit.
The Celtics led, 54-52, at the break, but the Wizards started the third quarter with a 13-5 run and Boston would never lead again. Stevens finally pulled his starters in the waning moments of the fourth quarter, hardly getting the production from his frontline players he wanted.