By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) — If the Celtics deserve credit for anything this season, it’s that they’re finding new and innovative ways to lose games. Wednesday night’s 99-97 loss to the Spurs in Boston may not have been the team’s worst defeat of the season, but it was easily the most frustrating.

Despite having just about everyone back in uniform and on the floor Wednesday night, Boston’s fatal flaws were littered throughout the contest. They moved the ball well at times which led to some offensive outbursts, but then they reverted back into a stagnant, motionless team when they had the ball for much of the second half. They played some solid defense throughout that generated some extra looks, but then they did nothing on the other end. That was most prominent at the end of the game, when the C’s had multiple chances to force overtime or win the game.

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The first instance came with 41.3 seconds left in the game. The Spurs were hanging on to a 99-97 lead, and star guard Dejounte Murray had just corralled his own miss. But Marcus Smart got all up in his grill on the baseline, forcing Murray to step out of bounds. It was a true Marcus Smart play… that was unfortunately followed by Smart missing a potential game-tying layup at the other end.

Lucky for Boston, Jaylen Brown came through with a key defensive play, poking the ball away from Derrick White in the backcourt as he brought the ball up the floor. Both players pounced on the ball, leading to a jump ball at midcourt. White won the jump, but the Celtics had a foul to give and quickly forced an inbound pass.

The Spurs had to call a timeout on their first inbound attempt because of Boston’s defense, and on their second, a flustered Jock Landale tried to force feed it to Murray. Brown was all over the Spurs guard and picked off the pass, giving Boston one final chance with five seconds left.

Brown raced to the hoop and put up a good look, albeit a contested look, at the rim. The ball hung on to the iron for an extra second, before ultimately rolling out.

Game over. Celtics lose.

It was Boston’s season in a nutshell. They had their chances to win against an inferior team, and had a few more plays gone their way, they would have won. But they didn’t will those plays to go their way, and they lost. Again.

“It was a tough loss. I smoked the [bleeping] layup,” a frustrated Brown said after the defeat. “But I’ll bounce back tomorrow.”

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The Celtics can’t hang on this one, not with a Thursday night matchup with the Knicks in New York. But offensively, Wednesday night was the same old song and dance, one that ends poorly for Boston.

The ball just stopped moving on offense. There was too much iso ball, too much standing around and watching. The Celtics keep saying that needs to end, but 38 games into the season, those remain just words and not actual action.

“We have to make teams pay. We can’t just be out there playing basketball,” Brown said. “We have to read the game a little bit better.”

Brown said the team should have gone through big men Robert Williams and Al Horford a little more. Again, we’ve heard this before. Instead, Boston played into San Antonio’s defense, which was determined to shut down Brown and Jayson Tatum.

Tatum shot just 6-for-20 in his return. Brown led the way with 30 points. He really would have liked to have finished with 32.

“We gotta keep moving, keep cutting with pace. I thought in the fourth quarter we got away from what we wanted to do and stuff like that,” he said. “We were rushing a little bit when we should have taken our time. We had some calls that didn’t go our way. That was tough. Some we disagreed with.

“But man, it sucks to lose this one. Because we wanted to win this one,” said Brown.

The Celtics are now 18-20 on the season, and are still playing down to their opposition. They struggle to score in the fourth quarter, and they can’t win close games. They’re stuck in the play-in purgatory; not bad enough for a shot at a good draft pick, and nowhere near good enough to be considered an actual playoff team. Really, they’re not all that fun to watch.

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That is, unless your into watching a team find new ways to lose almost every night. If that’s your thing, then the 2021-22 Boston Celtics are just the team for you.