“Tonight was an example of how things can be going terribly wrong and then [be] able to just stay with it.”
The Celtics snapped a three-game skid with a 121-109 victory over the Timberwolves on Friday, led by Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum who combined for 66 points.
Here are the takeaways.
1. After Jaylen Brown dropped 36 points — including a career-high 23 in the fourth quarter — to help the Celtics pull away for a double-digit win, he spoke to NBC Sports Boston’s Abby Chin. As he talked about the Celtics’ looming Christmas Day matchup against the Bucks, Marcus Smart entered the frame.
“Big Juice, baby. That’s what I’m talking about,” Smart bellowed, seemingly half for Brown’s benefit and half for the viewer at home (which is usually the case when an athlete interrupts a post-game interview). “From now on, that’s how you f—ing play. I don’t want to see you putting your damn head down no more. You’re too good for that.”
Smart slapped Brown’s chest three times hard enough to make Brown wince.
“You heard it right there,” Brown said drily to Chin.
Brown had a difficult third quarter — 1-for-6 from the field, 0-for-4 from behind the arc — but he seemed particularly down on himself, and his performance hit its valley in the third quarter on a wide-open kick-out 3-pointer, which he shot well over the rim. At one point in his postgame press conference, a reporter noted to Brown that he got smacked in the face by Bryn Forbes.
“Yeah, I got smacked in the face, and I probably deserved it, the way things was going,” Brown quipped.
That seems like a bit of an overstatement.
“Obviously I haven’t played basketball up to my level that I expect,” Brown added. “I think we got a lot of critics in Boston, but I’m my biggest and my own toughest critic.”
Brown probably doesn’t need to be quite that hard on himself — his 4-for-9 first half had some bright spots. In either case, his fourth quarter explosion was the biggest reason the Celtics won comfortably.
Brown praised Smart for being a “great teammate” — reminding him to keep his head up even when the game is difficult.
“There’s going to be stretches of the season where everything is amazing, and there’s going to be stretches right now where we won one game in the last four,” Brown said. “You’ve just got to find the balance. Let the water rise to its level, and be who you are. And be who you are.
“Tonight was an example of how things can be going terribly wrong and then able to just stay with it and find some type of balance in it.”
2. At his best, Brown is in total control offensively. Jayson Tatum’s footwork gets a lot of (well-deserved) attention, but Brown shows flashes that are every bit as impressive.
On the hesitation move below, note how Brown rocks back, then plants his right foot and explodes past Naz Reid for a layup.
Both Brown and Mazzulla concurred with a reporter who noted postgame that getting to the rim is crucial for the Celtics’ ball-movement and spacing, especially on a night when 3-pointers weren’t falling.
“I think when we get to the basket, when I get to the basket, I think this year [that’s] when I’ve found a lot of my success,” Brown said. “Sometimes I guess we get away from it because it feels like we’ve got open shots or maybe we’re overthinking the game a little bit, I’m not really sure.”
3. Of course, the Celtics still shot 13-for-46 from 3-point range (28.3 percent). The Celtics generated a lot of good looks and won the game … but their slump continues from the 3-point range.
4. Derrick White snapped out of an individual funk on Friday. He still missed all of his 3-pointers (going precisely 0-for-3 for the fourth game in a row), but he was 8-for-10 inside the arc and scored in a variety of ways.
His teammates liked seeing White get back on track.
“D-White is the ultimate teammate, somebody that everybody would love to play with,” Tatum said. “So just letting him know that we need him and how I love playing with him. And I need him to be aggressive. And I just love the way he kind of came out to start the game, being aggressive from the jump.”
White showed up to the game with a new haircut.
How much of a factor was White’s new look in breaking the slump?
“I guess all of it, right?” White said postgame. “I don’t know. Just tried to change some things up.”
5. The Celtics had Marcus Smart back in the lineup after he missed Wednesday’s game with a non-COVID illness.
“I think it’s just something going around,” Smart said. “Rob isn’t here, I don’t know what’s going on with him. Grant had it a couple of days ago. It’s just that time.”
Anyone with kids can certainly relate at the moment.
The Celtics missed Smart on both ends, but especially as a facilitator. On Saturday, he dished out 10 assists, and his passing had a major impact in the fourth quarter.
“For me, it’s just ‘Be you,’” Smart said. “‘Just get down on the floor. I’ll get you the ball, but I need you to run.’ And that’s just constantly what I’m preaching to them. Make or miss, no matter what’s going on, bad call, no call, just keep playing. It’s going to come back around to you, and that’s what happened tonight.”
6. The Celtics broke their fall just in time for a Christmas Day game against the Bucks. The Eastern Conference standings have been choppy recently, and the Celtics reclaimed their top overall seed with the win on Wednesday, as the Nets blew out the Bucks.
The Bucks are 8-7 on the road entering Sunday’s 5 p.m. contest at TD Garden.
Tatum called playing on Christmas a “big deal.”
“Everybody and their families watch basketball all day, so it’s usually the biggest matchups or games everybody wants to see,” Tatum said. “I’m always looking forward to playing on Christmas. It’s always fun, the energy and excitement around the day, just all the games in general.”
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