WASHINGTON — Missing Kemba Walker, the Boston Celtics became the latest NBA contender to surprisingly come up short against one of the league’s worst teams, losing 99-94 to the Washington Wizards, who got 27 points from Ish Smith to lead a depleted lineup Monday night.
Walker sat out his third game in a row with the flu, and while the Celtics won the previous two — against also-rans Atlanta and Chicago — they couldn’t overcome poor shooting, a slow start and a whole lot of Smith.
One game after pouring in a career-high 32 points as a reserve, Smith again came off the bench to lead the Wizards. The 31-year-old guard even heard “M-V-P!” chants while going 1-for-2 at the foul line in the fourth quarter, when he scored 14 of his points, including 10 straight for the Wizards during one 5-for-5 shooting stretch.
That allowed Washington to regain an edge after an 11-point halftime lead had dwindled to zero when Jaylen Brown’s 3-pointer made it 80-all with 8 minutes left.
That was a rare bright spot for Brown and Boston, though. He scored 23 points but shot 7 for 22, Marcus Smart was 3 for 14, Jayson Tatum was 8 for 20, and Gordon Hayward was 4 for 11, including an air ball on a wide-open 3 attempt with under 90 seconds remaining.
Boston entered the day second in the Eastern Conference at 25-8. Washington, in contrast, came in at 11-24, fewer wins than all but three teams in the 15-club East.
Washington coach Scott Brooks is missing the top six players on his roster to injuries. That includes All-Stars Bradley Beal (out for the fifth time in the last six games because of a sore right leg) and John Wall (sidelined all season so far after Achilles surgery), starters Rui Hachimura and Thomas Bryant, and leading subs Davis Bertans and Moe Wagner.
And yet, somehow, Washington’s past three victories came against Miami, the No. 3 team in the East in the first season since Dwyane Wade’s retirement, then Denver, who was No. 2 in the West at the time, and now Boston, which never led.
“Sometimes, we don’t have a lot of scoring options out there, but I can honestly say we have a lot of effort options out there,” Brooks said, “and that’s a good thing to have.”
The Wizards also did it with an unusual formula for them, relying on strong defense. They held Denver to an opponent-low 19 points in the first quarter Saturday, then bettered that by giving up just 17 to Boston in the opening period.
Limiting Boston to 29.2% shooting, Washington led 51-40 at halftime, the fewest points it has allowed in the first half this season.
It didn’t help the Celtics that they were without Walker, who leads them in scoring and assists. Didn’t make things easier for the Wizards that they were without Beal, who leads them in scoring and assists.
But Smith made the difference.
Celtics: Robert Williams missed his 13th game in a row since Dec. 6; he as a left hip problem. Coach Brad Stevens said Williams would meet with a specialist in New York on Tuesday. … Stevens on the NFL’s New England Patriots, the reigning Super Bowl champions who were eliminated from the AFC playoffs over the weekend: “We all know what they’ve done is unbelievably special, and I think that when you start talking about a ‘disappointment’ or ‘ups and downs’ when you’re talking about another 12-4 year, that’s pretty ridiculous. But I think that that’s the bar they’ve set. They’ve just set a ludicrously high bar for themselves.”
Wizards: As if they needed any more health issues, lost rookie guard Garrison Mathews to a sprained right ankle in the second quarter. … Had lost four consecutive games against Boston.
Celtics: Host San Antonio on Wednesday.
Wizards: At Orlando on Wednesday.