“Tell him I love him.”
That was head coach Joe Mazzulla, calm and collected after a disappointing end to regulation in another overtime loss to the Cavaliers 118-114 Monday night. With a chance to win the game on the free throw line with less than a tick left in the fourth quarter, Grant Williams missed both.
“It’s part of the game. He didn’t miss them on purpose. You got to be able to move on from it.”
Sports can be cruel where only results matter to many fans. Very rarely do we enjoy the journey as much as judge the trip on its destination. We forget that many had already chalked this game up as a loss after the Celtics lost in double-overtime the night before and left Jayson Tatum, Al Horford, and Robert Williams back in Boston or that Payton Pritchard went coast-on-coast with just 5.8 seconds left on the clock to even have a chance to win or that Williams fought his way for an offensive rebound and a near putback at the buzzer. No, that’ll all be forgotten because Williams missed two free throws to win a game after telling a jawing Donovan Mitchell that he would “make ‘em both.”
Considering the circumstances, winning a game against one of the East’s best could have been the momentum builder the team needed since the All-Star break. Instead, it’s Boston’s fourth loss in five games, all in crushing fashion. There was the worst shooting night they’ve had all year at Madison Square Garden. There’s the 28-point comeback that the Nets put together on the parquet. And now, back-to-back overtime losses in back-to-back games sits the Celtics three games in the loss column behind the Milwaukee Bucks and just two games ahead of the Philadelphia 76ers for the #2 seed.
But despite the losing streak, Mazzulla remains steadfast in his steady style. “To me, in order to experience success, you have to have failures,” Mazzulla said. “I don’t like losing. I hate losing, but I understand it and I know you need to do it in order to get to where you want to get to.”
Williams’ missed free throws are a position that Jaylen Brown is familiar with. After missing a pair against the Knicks in late January that could have also won the game, he came back two nights later and made them in a similar spot against the Lakers and was the driving force in an overtime win.
“It happens. I’ve been in that position before and that’s what should fuel you into being better. You can’t let it be a spirit breaker. Grant has had a great career and the reason he’s been successful is because of his confidence,” Brown said of his teammate. “Now is one of those moments where his confidence is going to be tested. A lot of people are seeing the adversity he’s going through — you gotta respond as a man, you gotta be better, and you can’t let it take you down.”
For the most part, Williams was having a bounce back in Cleveland. After a DNP-CD against the Cavaliers last week, he’s slowly regained form as one of the key contributors in the rotation. Before the end of regulation, he had hit all four of his three-pointers and been a solid defender in Boston’s switching defense.
“You gotta look at it in two different ways: you can go up or you can go down,” Brown said. “I want him to go up.”
Williams and the Celtics will have a chance to “go up” when they return home for one final game at TD Garden against the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday night before heading out on a two-week, six-game road trip.