Celtics fans were reminded of two very important things Wednesday night in Boston’s thrilling, season-opening 138-134 loss to the Knicks in double overtime at Madison Square Garden.
First, is the fact that despite what the narrative may be in some NBA circles, the Celtics are very much a team built on two All-Stars. Sure, Jayson Tatum may be Option A on most nights and might even be a future MVP candidate, but Jaylen Brown as Option B is pretty damn good, just ask Spike Lee.
Fresh off a bout of COVID, Brown scored 46 points in 46 minutes in one of the most impressive scoring performances in a season opener in NBA history. From start to finish Brown almost single-handedly carried the C’s to victory in new head coach Ime Udoka’s first game, not only setting a franchise record for points in a opener, but adding nine rebounds, six assists, three steals and a block to his do-it-all 2021 debut.
Unfortunately, Celtics were also reminded that Boston is indeed a two-star squad and is probably going to need consistent nightly performances from each of its studs this season to succeed. While Brown was going off, Tatum was just off and nowhere to be found for much of the night in New York. Though he finished with 20 points that look respectable on paper, Tatum struggled through a 7-for-30 shooting night in which he went 2-of-15 behind the arc.
Despite spending the last 10 days in quarantine, Brown hit the floor running. After the Celtics trailed 8-0 early, Brown scored 20 points in the first quarter – including 3-for-3 from three-point land – to give Boston the 35-29 advantage early. The Celtics led by four at halftime, but then fell behind by four after three quarters, Brown cooling off a bit in the middle of the game.
Trailing by as many as 11 down the stretch, Boston needed a Marcus Smart (15 points, 5-of-11 threes) three-pointer as time expired to send the game to overtime.
The teams traded three-pointers early in the frenetic first overtime before Tatum missed a final pull-up jumper in the first extra time that left the game knotted at 128.
The Celtics took a lead on Brown’s final three-pointer of the night early in the second overtime. But as players on both squads began to show their fatigue, the game’s leading scorer missed a dunk following a steal that could have altered the eventual outcome.
Still, there’s no doubt it was a great night for Brown, especially considering the circumstances in which he said he basically had 24 hours to get ready due to COVID.
“My breathing felt irregular but fine for most part.
Towards the end I could feel my heartbeat through my chest. It would have been better if we got a win,” Brown said afterwards of his ultra-impressive effort.
Though Boston initially hoped to monitor Brown’s minutes, things didn’t play out that way.
“He came out firing. He was rolling,” Udoka said. “We kept him in for some longer stretches than we planned.”
Tatum was well aware of the performance his fellow star put up, especially in light of his own miserable shooting night.
“He carried us tonight," Tatum said accurately declared. "Plays he was making, shots he was hitting, he was unbelievable and I wish I could have did my part."
While plenty of stars have come and gone – Kemba Walker the latest example, scoring 10 points in his Knicks debut while fellow former Celtic Evan Fournier hit for 32, including key three pointers in overtime against the squad he spent last spring with – Tatum and Brown have been the constant in Boston for years. They will continue to be that moving forward in the new era of Celtics basketball that tipped off Wednesday night with Danny Ainge retired, Brad Stevens bumped up to the front office and Udoka putting his stamp on the bench.
But as much as things change, they stay the same.
The Celtics are Tatum and Brown's team.
They will go as far as the two still-young pillars can take them on a nightly basis.
Brown did more than his part in New York, but in the end it wasn’t quite enough.