BOSTON — Jared Sullinger saluted the crowd, promising the Boston Celtics would “come back better next year.” A highlight video honored the fans, and another brought the crowd at TD Garden to its feet with a tribute to victims and survivors of the Boston Marathon bombing.
It was a night of brutal, unadulterated honesty. The Celtics were saying, hey, we weren’t very good this season, but we thank you for loving us anyway.
Fan appreciation night went off without a hitch, right down to the Celtics losing to the Washington Wizards, 118-102, to bolster their odds in the NBA draft lottery. Long-overlooked forward Brandon Bass was recognized for exemplifying the spirit of the Celtics organization on the court and off, and undrafted young players Phil Pressey, Chris Johnson and Chris Babb enjoyed extended minutes.
Rajon Rondo, who was unable to suit up due to a sore hamstring, honored marathon victims with his footwear and paid homage to yet another sellout crowd.
“Pretty much everywhere you go, you learn that Boston sports mean a lot in this city,” Rondo said. “All four sports are big here. It’s not just one team, one fan. It’s a collective group of guys, the Red Sox, the Bruins, the Patriots and ourselves. So we take much pride in playing for this city, especially this week. This is a special week for us, being an athlete in this city, along with all Bostonians. It means a lot.”
For a third straight game, Kelly Olynyk topped 20 points, providing an optimistic talking point for Celtics coach Brad Stevens. Perhaps it is reaching a bit to say Olynyk broke out, since the Cleveland Cavaliers’ front line couldn’t have played with less fire, the Philadelphia 76ers do not employ a big man of consequence and 18 of his 24 points against the Wizards came in the second half, when Washington extended a four-point lead to 26.
When you finish a season with a 25-57 record, however, you’ll take all the positive talking points you can find. Olynyk’s play in the final three games, when he averaged 25.6 points per game, was one.