With Jaylen Brown out, the Celtics will have to manage minutes with no Jays on the floor unless, of course, Jayson Tatum plays the entire game. Obviously, that’s not going to happen, so for the next week or two, head coach Joe Mazzulla has a puzzle to solve.
Per NBAWowy, the Celtics could be starved for scoring without their two All-Stars on the floor. This season, they’re averaging just 93.2 points per 100 possessions without the Jays on the floor. Defensively, it’s not as dire. Boston’s all-around defensive rating is 111; without Brown and Tatum, it drops to 114. Minus the garbage time minutes, Cleaning the Glass paints a slightly rosier picture: through 158 possessions, it’s 100.6 OffRtg and 116.7 DefRtg. Mazzulla’s first test without Brown (and Al Horford)? Brooklyn, the hottest team in the league with four days rest to figure out how to play without Kevin Durant.
Tatum played just over 38 minutes on the night and was just a +2 in the 109-98 win over the Nets. His team-leading 20 points and five assists kept the team afloat on the second night of a back-to-back, but it was those Brown-out minutes that ultimately made the difference.
To start the second quarter in Brooklyn, Mazzulla fielded a versatile triple point guard lineup with Payton Pritchard, Derrick White, Malcolm Brogdon, Sam Hauser, and Robert Williams. Don’t bother checking. That fivesome has never seen the floor together, but you can see Mazzulla’s thinking here. Surround playmakers and shooters with playmakers and shooters and add the unpredictable spice of the Time Lord and hopefully, you can piece together enough to survive while Tatum is on the bench.
C’s need Brogdon and White to be aggressive in Jaylen’s absence. Doing well so far. pic.twitter.com/9TwGucxVl2— Pull up shoot (@NElGHT_) January 13, 2023
The key was Malcolm Brogdon. On the season, the Celtics sixth man is a very close third in total drives per game (10.6) behind Brown (11.0) and Tatum (10.6) — all while playing twelve fewer minutes a night. He’s not quite the scorer and finisher as his younger teammates, but Brogdon still has a quick first step, can still get his hips around his defender and draw another, and make the next pass.
“We just wanted to play faster offensively, get stops which we were able to do, and then really push the pace and get easy buckets,” Brogdon told NBC Boston’s Abby Chin after scoring 16 points.
To start the fourth, Mazzulla swapped Williams and Hauser for Grant Williams and Luke Kornet, adding size, defense, and more shooting. But the game plan was the same.
“When we’re in there, a lot of us can put the ball on the ground, make a play, touch the paint, kick out, get to the rim...it makes us really dangerous and fast,” Pritchard said after fueling a 12-2 run to start the final frame. “I think that’s what changed the game: that speed.”
“Payton and Malcolm coming in, to be honest, those two and that group with Sam, really changed the game for us. They got us in a rhythm, and they got our momentum back for us,” Marcus Smart said.
The Celtics bench edged the Nets 38-36 behind the returns to the rotation for Pritchard (9 points) and Kornet (11 points) and they’ll need that kind of production while Boston plays six of their next seven games on the road.