After trading big shots in big moments throughout a game that felt like it was meant more for late spring than the middle of winter, the Celtics held off the Clippers in double-overtime, 141-133, on Thursday night at TD Garden.
All-Star Jayson Tatum made 14 of 23 shots and had 39 points and 9 rebounds. Marcus Smart scored Boston’s first 10 points of the game and finished with 31 points as the Celtics improved to 38-16 before the All-Star break.
Lou Williams had 35 points to lead the Clippers (37-18).
With 46.8 seconds left in regulation, former Celtic Marcus Morris grabbed an offensive rebound and drilled a 3-pointer to tie the score at 114.
Kemba Walker had a chance to win the game in regulation, but his 18-footer at the buzzer caromed off the rim.
Daniel Theis, who has become an essential part of this core group, fouled out with 3:43 left in the first overtime with Boston trailing, 117-116.
The Clippers took a 122-118 lead on a 3-pointer by Morris with 2:37 left, but Smart instantly answered with one at the other end. Then, with Boston trailing by one, 124-123, Tatum completed a powerful step-through move for a layup.
After a timeout, Kawhi Leonard’s fadeaway was short, and at the other end Tatum blitzed past Leonard for a layup that gave the Celtics a 127-124 lead with 24.8 seconds to play.
It appeared Williams had a chance for a four-point play when he was fouled on a 3-pointer, but the officials convened and ruled that it was a non-shooting foul. Clippers guard Landry Shamet (19 points) hit a 3-pointer moments later anyway, and Tatum’s jumper at the buzzer was off, forcing a second overtime.
With the score tied at 130 in the double OT, Smart threw a long outlet pass that was batted away, but Smart charged forward and somehow came up with the loose ball and scored.
With Boston leading, 134-132, Hayward drained a 3-pointer from the top of the key to stretch Boston’s lead to five. And Grant Williams, who already had a key block early in the overtime, came up with a steal. Tatum was called for an offensive foul, but as Lou Williams drove for a layup Hayward blocked it off of Williams’s head. Los Angeles did not threaten again.
Celtics forward Jaylen Brown missed the game because of a calf contusion. The Clippers were without starting guard Patrick Beverley (groin) and Paul George suffered a hamstring injury in the second quarter and did not return.
Observations from the game:
■ Marcus Smart started in place of Brown, and he made his presence known at the start. He drilled a 3, came up with a steal and hit another 3. Then when he came upcourt 15 seconds later, the crowd could be heard encouraging him to try another. Never one to pass up a good chance at a heat-check, Smart obliged, and was fouled on a 3-pointer by former Celtics forward Marcus Morris, who then received a technical foul.
Smart made 2 of 4 free throws and then came up with yet another steal and coasted in for a dunk, finishing off a 10-0 run of his own after Boston had fallen behind 7-0.
■ The Smart experience usually results in extremes, of course. In this case, his next 3-point shot was an airball, and the one after that barely grazed the rim.
■ The Celtics broke some news of their own during the first timeout. The lights went dark and a dramatic Kevin Garnett highlight video was shown to announce that he will have his No. 5 retired next season. The presentation was nicely done, and the Celtics did well to keep it under wraps.
■ Twitter is never the best place to crowdsource, but the instant reaction among fans there was that Garnett did not deserve to have his number retired. He did play just six seasons in Boston, during which time he won one championship. But he was an essential part of revamping the culture, and he is one of the greatest NBA players of all-time.
■ Smart’ scoring surge was followed up by a more expected one, as All-Star Jayson Tatum poured in 14 consecutive Boston points during a first-quarter stretch. Celtics other than Smart and Tatum combined to go 0 for 10 from the field until Hayward made a basket with just over a minute left in the first quarter.
■ Montrezl Harrell has been a problem for a lot of opponents this season, but he was a true nuisance in the first half on Thursday. When he was guarded by the sturdy Grant Williams, he had little trouble using his speed and strength to blow past him. When he was defended by Enes Kanter, he had little trouble catching him off balance and getting to the rim. In the first half Harrell made 5 of 5 shots and 6 of 6 free throws and scored 16 points.
■ The Celtics had a much easier time when Ivica Zubac was on the floor. The starting center just doesn’t have the speed to keep up on defense, particularly when passes are being sprayed with urgency. He was consistently caught a step behind the action, and the Clippers were outscored by 8 points during his 11 minutes on the floor.
■ Tatum is an All-Star, and it seems like there is at least one sequence per night that truly reminds everyone of that fact. In this game, it came in the final minute of the third quarter. He finished off a powerful drive to the rim with an even more powerful one-handed dunk in traffic. Then on the next possession he lulled Landry Shamet with a crossover before swishing a step-back 3.