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‘Playoff atmosphere’ versus Clippers will benefit Celtics

Despite the loss, the Boston Celtics had a lot to gain from an intense matchup with one of the NBA’s best teams.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Los Angeles Clippers Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Wednesday night’s marquee matchup between the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Clippers sure didn’t feel like it was played in mid-November.

“It was a playoff atmosphere,” said Marcus Smart. “You got two really good teams going head-to-head.”

And the Celtics and Clippers battled right down to the wire with Jayson Tatum forcing overtime with a 3-pointer in the waning seconds of regulation before Kawhi Leonard blocked Kemba Walker’s corner trey attempt in the extra frame to preserve a 107-104 win for L.A.

There were certainly plenty of learning moments for this Boston squad, which was newly configured before the start of this season and has dealt with a rash of injuries so far. The Celtics let a 10-point lead midway through the fourth quarter slip away and then couldn’t entirely dig themselves out of a hole in overtime.

But having the back-and-forth, nail-biting environment will certainty benefit the Celtics going forward as they proved to be up for this early-season test against a clear-cut contender for the NBA title.

“It was great for us,” Smart said. “We believe truly that we can compete with anyone in this league, but it’s going to take every possession. We can’t take it for granted. We got to take every possession like it’s our last possession and we got to really protect the ball and things like that and really come up with the shots that we want and execute the way we want. We let them get us out of our stuff a little bit and you got to credit those guys. They’re really good and we just got to be a little bit better.”

Despite a horrendous shooting night for Boston, in which it hit just 12-of-45 (26.7%) 3-point attempts — Jaylen Brown and Walker struggled the most, combining for a 7-for-31 showing from the floor — the C’s hustle and a stellar performance from Jayson Tatum (game-high 30 points) kept them in it.

However, lapses on both ends down the stretch proved fatal. And it’s little miscues during the game’s most critical juncture that make the most difference, just like in the playoffs.

It was good for the C’s to get this test as they have more answers than questions coming out of L.A. Against one of the best teams in the league and a favorite to capture the NBA title, the C’s showed their terrific start to the season isn’t a fluke and that they should be in the discussion of teams that could play in June as well.

“We shot the ball very poorly, our defense wasn't great and we were still in the game. Plain and simple,” Smart said. “Clean up a couple of things, this is probably a different outcome.”

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