The Celtics are probably headed for the No. 2 seed: 5 takeaways after loss to Wizards

They could enter Thursday's showdown with the Bucks trailing by three games.

Celtics Wizards
Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum grabs the ball against Washington Wizards center Kristaps Porzingis. AP Photo/Nick Wass

The Celtics dropped a bad loss to the Wizards on Tuesday, falling 130-111 to a Wizards team that was without Bradley Beal, Kyle Kuzma and Daniel Gafford.

Here are the takeaways.

1. There are games throughout the course of a season that get forgotten but affect the standings disproportionately, and Tuesday’s loss — which joins a surprisingly lengthy list of losses that could reasonably be described as “embarrassing” — has the potential to be one of those games.

The Wizards don’t matter much at this stage in the season — a little too bad to sniff the play-in game, a little too good to be a favorite in the sweepstakes for Victor Wembanyama. But the Celtics keep paying lip-service to the 1-seed, and Tuesday’s loss essentially took them out of contention for it.


Sure, the Celtics still have their showdown with the Bucks on Thursday, which could earn them the season tiebreaker. But the Bucks have a chance to go up by three games with a victory over the Pacers on Wednesday. If they win that one, the Celtics would still need two independent losses from the Bucks in addition to a win on Thursday.

That’s not impossible with games against the 76ers and Grizzlies still on Milwaukee’s schedule. But even if the Bucks do the Celtics a favor and start losing (which they’ve shown no interest in doing even after their 16-game winning streak came to an end), the Celtics would also need to win out. Does anyone trust the Celtics to win out at this stage, especially after watching a short-handed Wizards team blow them out for 3.5 quarters? Isn’t it easy to imagine the Celtics taking the 1-seed back only to shoot 7-for-41 from 3-point range and lose to the Raptors in the penultimate game of the season?

Don’t kid yourself: The Celtics would be better off with the 1-seed, no matter who they would face in the second round — getting home-court advantage whenever they face the Bucks would be preferable to any matchup-based shifting. But on Tuesday, the path to the 1-seed more or less became impassable.

2. Often when the Celtics struggle, the 3-pointers are one of the main culprits, which was the case on Tuesday. They finished just 11-for-44 (25 percent) from behind the arc (the Wizards, by comparison, were a fine-but-unremarkable 13-for-37). Al Horford was particularly bad (2-for-10 overall, 1-for-7 from three), but he had plenty of company (2-for-7 for Tatum, 0-for-4 for Brown and Grant Williams, 1-for-4 from Malcolm Brogdon).


A closer look at the attempts suggests that the shots were actually pretty good. After a few early shots that might have been a little too ambitious, the Celtics generally moved the ball and touched the paint often before they hoisted 3-pointers. One of Grant Williams’ misses might have been the result of Marcus Smart trying to be a little too unselfish, passing up a layup to find an open Williams in the corner.

The biggest problem seemed to be that the Celtics missed some early open 3-pointers and could never find a rhythm. That problem has plagued the Celtics throughout the season, which isn’t exactly encouraging with the postseason looming. A poorly-timed cold game could be the difference between winning and losing a playoff series.

3. Kristaps Porzingis burned the Celtics repeatedly, finishing with a game-high 32 points on 14-for-21 shooting. The Celtics switched against him often in the early going, and Porzingis simply shot over Smart, Brown, and Derrick White when he found himself matched with them. Once he was comfortable, the Celtics didn’t have a lot of answers for him.

Corey Kispert hurt the Celtics as well from three, shooting 3-for-6, but the bigger problem was everything inside the arc — the Wizards finished 41-for-62 on 2-point attempts (66.1 percent).


4. The Celtics put an all-bench lineup in the game after a timeout with 9:21 remaining. That group — made up of Mike Muscala, Luke Kornet, Payton Pritchard, Sam Hauser, and Grant Williams — did its best, and Pritchard’s 3-pointer with 6:40 remaining trimmed the lead to 109-97. But Deni Avdija buried a 3-pointer of his own on the ensuing possession, and he converted a layup on the next possession — a personal 5-0 run. The bench trimmed the lead back to 13, but Porzingis scored five straight, and Monte Morris pushed the lead back up to 20.

The Celtics didn’t really play well enough at any point to truly make Tuesday’s game competitive, but the bench created a brief flurry of activity. Also, Pritchard’s return from a heel injury meant the Celtics were fully healthy with the exception of Danilo Gallinari.

Presumably, if you are a Celtics fan, that actually makes things feel a little worse.

5. If you are scoreboard watching, there’s a new team to keep an eye on: The Cavaliers, who are quietly closing on the 76ers. That would be great for the Celtics if they stay in the 2-seed, since an Eastern Conference Finals run would no longer go through both Joel Embiid and Giannis Antetokounmpo.

The bad news? The Cavaliers blew a winnable game of their own on Tuesday, falling 120-118 to the Hawks. They now trail the Sixers by two games.

The Celtics and Bucks will tip off at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday.


This discussion has ended. Please join elsewhere on Boston.com