Chin up, Boston Celtics.
A day after posting one of their more encouraging wins of the 2014-15 season, the Celtics responded Monday with maybe their most encouraging loss of the year -- a double-overtime defeat at the hands of the Washington Wizards.
Despite trailing by as much as 23 in the second half and 16 entering the fourth quarter, the Celtics rallied to force two overtimes. The bad news? Boston twice let seven-point leads evaporate late in those OT sessions, but the progress the team and some of its young players showed over the final 24 minutes of play likely outweighed the final result, a 133-132 triumph for the Wizards.
Some of the positives:
• Marcus Smart: Still working his way back to full health after missing 10 games last month due to a left ankle injury, Smart appeared a step slow in recent outings, particularly when John Wall was racing past him during Smart's brief cameo on Sunday. Playing extended floor time in the fourth quarter Monday, Smart lit Boston's rally fuse, both with his defense -- highlighted by a couple of charge takes -- but also providing some much-needed offense. Smart scored a career-high 23 points on 7-of-14 shooting (4-of-8 beyond the 3-point arc) with 5 assists, 4 rebounds and 2 assists over 35 minutes. The negative? Smart misfired on an open (yet early-in-the-clock) 3-point attempt coming out of a timeout with 50 seconds left in the second overtime and a long rebound helped get Washington moving the other way in transition, where Wall finished an old-fashioned three-point play the other way.
• Kelly Olynyk: Celtics fans got a glimpse of "Aggressive Olynyk," a player who attacked the glass at both ends of the floor (he grabbed a team-high 11 rebounds) and didn't hesitate to shoot the big shot late in the game. Maybe that was most evident when Olynyk received the ball with Boston down 3 and less than five seconds to play. Olynyk put up an errant shot, but Evan Turner was able to track it down and hit a desperation 3-pointer to force overtime. Olynyk finished with 19 points on 6-of-12 shooting and added four steals and three assists. Olynyk fouled out with 2:10 remaining in the second overtime. His energy and hustle were sorely missed as the Wizards rallied ahead.
• Evan Turner: There was no overtime Monday without Turner, who pounced when Jeff Green kept alive Olynyk's late-game miss. Turner corralled the ball with time running out, sprinted to the right corner and splashed the triple. For Turner, it was another chance to assert himself, particularly in a crunch-time situation. Turner finished with 18 points on 8-of-13 shooting with eight rebounds and six assists over 39 minutes. Two negatives that shouldn't diminish Turner's night: He missed Boston's last-gasp look with a chance to win; and he got whistled for the foul in transition that allowed Wall to shoot the game's decisive free throw (even though Turner can make a strong case he never fouled Wall).
Late in the game, coach Brad Stevens elected to stick with the bench-heavy lineup that fueled Boston's comeback. That meant captain Rajon Rondo did not play the final 27 minutes, 21 seconds. Stevens went out of his way to compliment Rondo, noting he remained one of the most vocal presences despite deferring to the hot-handed backups. Boston's five-man bench combined for 82 points and 30 rebounds; the Wizards got 27 points and 11 rebounds from their reserves.
If nothing else, Celtics fans got to enjoy a rare instance where Boston was the team rallying from a monster fourth-quarter deficit to make things interesting. The Celtics have lamented a number of games that have gotten away in the fourth quarter and -- despite all the good Monday -- players and coaches were still disappointed after leading by as much as seven in both overtimes.
Alas, there's a lot of good to pluck from this one. Far more than bad. And the Celtics might look back even fonder on this game if the likes of Smart, Turner and Olynyk can build off this effort.
Monday's game also hammered home that Boston is a must-watch team. Games don't lack for entertainment, even if it's at the expense of big leads being sacrificed. Boston knows how to make things interesting this season.