For at least one night, the Boston Celtics showed that they have what it takes to dominate games without Kemba Walker.
Jaylen Brown set a new career high with 42 points in only 29 minutes, as the C’s took down the Memphis Grizzlies 126-107 on Wednesday night at the T.D. Garden. Jayson Tatum added 16 points in only 23 minutes of action, while Jonas Valanciunas had a double-double of 20 points and 11 rebounds for Memphis.
Coming into the second leg of this back-to-back, the C’s were even more shorthanded than usual, as Tristan Thompson sat out to rest the hamstring that gave him trouble during the preseason. However, the Grizzlies were without young star Ja Morant after he suffered a sprained ankle that is going to sideline him for the next month.
Brown started the game hot, hitting two 3-pointers and scoring eight points in the first quarter as the C’s jumped out to a 12-point lead at the end of the first 12 minutes. By halftime, Brown had 26 points on 10-15 shooting, including 6-8 from deep, and the lead was up to 26. It felt like Brown couldn’t miss, as he was on fire from 3, the midrange, and making his layups as well.
From there, the Celtics coasted to victory. Once again, they were outscored in the third quarter, but with such a big lead it did not cost them the game. Still, it is something that the C’s need to work on, as they won’t have 26-point leads every game, and their bad third quarters are going to come back to bite them in an important game if they don’t improve.
Because of the blowout, several Celtics players were able to see their first real game action of the year. Carsen Edwards saw his first extended playing time, and made it count with nine points while playing the whole fourth quarter. Aaron Nesmith also played nearly 20 minutes in this game, as he continues to recover from the foot injury that cost him most of his final college season. Though he certainly looks rusty, he also showed that if he gets hot, he has a dangerous shot that can be a real weapon for this team. While he missed his spot-up opportunities, he hit a tough, side-step three that put his sweet shooting stroke on display.
While these minutes all came with the game well out of reach for Memphis, they were still important minutes. As Celtics broadcaster Brian Scalabrine likes to say, there is no such thing as garbage time to the players. Making one shot in the final minutes, or in this case quarter, of a blowout can give a player confidence in their shot moving forwards. For players like Edwards and Nesmith, who haven’t seen much time but have the ability to be gamechangers with their scoring ability, that could be the biggest takeaway from this game. With the Celtics shorthanded, and the compacted schedule this season due to the pandemic, there will be moments when bench players are called upon to make big contributions, and ‘garbage time’ minutes can be the difference between them being confident or not.
However, the spotlight from this game is absolutely on Jaylen Brown. He was completely dominant from start to finish, and the Grizzlies never found an answer to stop him. He got wherever he wanted to and the shot always seemed to go in. Right now, he leads the NBA in total points scored this season with 140. Jayson Tatum is fourth with 118. Now, they’ve played five games, one more than a lot of teams, but the point still remains that the C’s young stars are two of the best in the game.
The Celtics fans that booed the selection of Brown on his draft should certainly be ashamed of themselves now, as should the people who criticized the 4-year/ $106 million contract he signed in 2019. He has grown as a player every year he’s been in the league, and this season, with more on his plate, he’s stepped up to be the team’s leading scorer through five games, all the while playing his usual tough defense. With Brown and Tatum, the C’s have their core of the future, and just need to surround them with the right supporting cast to be in title contention for years to come.