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Celtics made big plays on big stage, but OT loss to Clippers offers plenty of lessons

Clippers guard Rodney McGruder (left) and Celtics center Enes Kanter vie for a loose ball.Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

LOS ANGELES — It was easy to find Celtics moments that could have eventually crystallized as defining plays of this promising season.

There was Jayson Tatum, during his second-half tour de force in which he looked like the All-Star he could eventually be, putting Paul George on the ground with a devastating step-back 3-pointer that sent the game to overtime.

There was Marcus Smart, whose all-defense honor last season might not have been enough for him, knocking the ball away from Kawhi Leonard in overtime, and then sprawling across the floor and throwing it off Leonard’s leg.

In the end, however, these big plays on this big stage will end as footnotes rather than cause for celebration, and the Celtics will look for teaching moments from a 107-104 overtime loss to the Clippers.


Related: Observations from the Celtics’ loss

Boston had a chance to send the game to double overtime, but Kemba Walker’s last-second 3-point attempt from the left corner was deflected by the massive hand of Leonard, sending it off course and sending the Clippers to the win.

“[The game] was great for us,” Smart said. “We believe truly that we can compete with anybody in this league. But it’s going to take every possession. We can’t take it for granted. We’ve got to take every possession like it’s our last possession.”

It was hard to tell if this topsy-turvy game had the feel of a playoff matchup, or one that was filled with plenty of clumsy moments and momentum-stalling official reviews. The crowd was almost split between green-clad Celtics supporters and indifferent Clippers fans who don’t seem to recognize that they now cheer for perhaps the most talented team in the NBA.

It was the first game in which the Clippers’ two new superstars — Leonard and George — were on the court together.


But on this night, pesky, fire-breathing Patrick Beverley had the greatest impact. The 6-foot-1-inch guard finished with 14 points, a game-high 16 rebounds, 7 assists, 3 steals, and 2 blocked shots, and the Clippers outscored the Celtics by 17 points during his 40 minutes, 41 seconds on the court.

On Wednesday morning, Smart, who is the Celtics’ closest approximation to Beverley, offered some praise for his counterpart. After this game, Beverley very much stayed in character and was not ready to offer mutual admiration just yet, as he stared blankly when asked about playing with a similarly intense player like Smart. When asked again about the comparison, he chuckled and added, “That’s funny.”

“We gave him a game ball,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said of Beverley. “I didn’t know we were giving game balls, but we gave him a game ball because he deserved it. I thought he literally, singlehandedly willed that game.”

Tatum, whose shooting has been inconsistent this year, had one of his finest offensive games as a pro, erupting for 30 points on 12-of-24 shooting, 23 of which came after halftime. He said he relished the chance to go toe-to-toe with Leonard and George, two players with the accolades he hopes to eventually rack up.

“This is the opportunity you look for, especially the bright lights, big stage, you don’t want to back down,” Tatum said. “You want to compete and show them that you belong out here and just earn their respect. And I love competing against those guys.”


Tatum simply did not receive enough help from the other starters, though, as they combined to make just 18 of 59 shots. Walker’s struggles were most pronounced. The three-time All-Star was 4 for 17, with six turnovers and two assists.

“I just made a lot of bad decisions tonight,” Walker said. “I’ve just got to be better at the end of the day, be better for my teammates.”

Related: Less takeout, more from the team chef: How Robert Williams altered his diet

The Celtics missed their first 16 3-pointers before ultimately finishing 12 of 45 from beyond the arc.

Lou Williams came off the bench to score 27 points for the Clippers, while George added 25.

With 2:21 left in regulation, Montrezl Harrell accidentally tipped a Smart lob into the hoop, giving Boston a 94-87 lead that seemed even bigger considering the good defense and scattered offense up to that point.

But the Clippers pounced with a 10-0 run that put them ahead by 3. After a timeout, Tatum walloped George with a between-the-legs step-back that left George on his rear end, and then calmly drilled a deep 3-pointer to tie the game. Leonard’s potential game-winning 3-pointer went in and out, leading to overtime.

The Clippers pushed ahead by 4 points behind back-to-back 3-pointers by George and Beverley, and then Celtics coach Brad Stevens was whistled for a rare technical foul in a critical moment. He was upset that Walker had been called for a blocking foul instead of getting a charge when Harrell barreled through the lane before the Beverley 3-pointer.


“I probably should have let it go,” Stevens said. “But I was pretty sure what I thought it was, but I don’t know.”

Still, the Celtics had a chance. A dunk by Tatum off an inbounds pass pulled the Celtics within 107-104 with 34.9 seconds left. Then Smart knocked the ball away from Leonard and knocked it off him.

After Tatum missed a 3-pointer, Walker corralled an offensive rebound before Beverley committed a foul with 1.6 seconds left. But Walker’s 3-pointer from the left corner was deflected by Leonard, and it landed harmlessly out of bounds after the buzzer expired.

“It was one of those nights for us,” Smart said. “But we fought.”

Adam Himmelsbach can be reached at adam.himmelsbach@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @adamhimmelsbach.