After Monday night’s clunker against the Houston Rockets, the Boston Celtics took on the Minnesota Timberwolves at Target Center on Wednesday night. In a narrow 104-102 victory over the Timberwolves, the Celtics looked noticeably more engaged on both sides of the ball, and while the offense struggled once again, there was an improved effort to attack the basket. Boston came into the matchup with much more energy to get the win, albeit an ugly one.
“Just trying to take care of business,” said Jaylen Brown after the win. “We all know what we’re capable of, so it’s up to leadership to make sure we don’t drop the ball and make sure everyone feels empowered. As the season has continued on, we found different ways I’ve been challenged as a leader, and this was little bit like one of those moments where we need a little bit of urgency.”
Jaylen Brown led the charge for Boston, following up a 43-point effort against Houston with 35 points on 12-of-24 shooting, 5-of-8 from three, 6-of-8 from the line, along with 10 rebounds, an assist, steal, and two turnovers against Minnesota. Despite the rough patches that the Celtics have been battling over the last few weeks, Brown has been overwhelmingly great since returning from his facial fracture, and playing some of his best ball of the season.
Jaylen Brown's last 2 games— Taylor Snow (@taylorcsnow) March 16, 2023
28-49 FG (57.1%)
9-18 3P (50%)
13-16 FT (81.3%) pic.twitter.com/pYSkXWpEre
“You’ve gotta step up and be a leader in times of adversity.” Brown continued. “We dropped a couple games and those are the moments when you gotta step up and find ways to win, and challenge our teammates. We’ve got a long road trip, we’ve still got three or four games left; the challenge is to take that challenge every single night.”
Between Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum lies the responsibility of being leaders for this group, and it feels like if either player doesn’t bring the right energy from tipoff, the team follows suit. Jayson Tatum said as much following Monday night’s loss in Houston, admitting that he didn’t play with energy and intensity to start the game. It’s good that both stars realize what’s needed of them in terms of effort and leadership, but at this point in the season, it’s alarming that it evens need to be reinforced.
With only a dozen games left in Boston’s season before the playoffs, they’ve slipped into the second seed and two games back of the Milwaukee Bucks, with the Philadelphia 76ers hot on their heels. The playoffs are ultimately where this team will prove themselves, but in the meantime, they need to keep pace with the Bucks and Sixers to make sure they stay in the top three spots. Milwaukee has been red-hot over the past month or so, and after the longest win streak of the season, they’ve surged into the first seed. This is probably the most consistent pressure the Celtics have felt this season, with other teams ramping up while the Celtics began to spiral.
Jaylen Brown tonight:— StatMuse (@statmuse) March 16, 2023
Ties Paul Pierce for the 2nd most games (21) with 30 points and 5 threes by a Celtic — only Tatum has more. pic.twitter.com/HS1prYll58
“I challenge myself anytime adversity hits,” said Brown. “Those are the moments you look to. Those are the moments I look to when everybody is feeling down or...the energy is low. Those are the moments where I’m like, ‘okay, let’s get it going. Okay, let’s come out and play, let’s play with a little bit more urgency, let’s play with a bit more fire.’ Because those are the moments that matter the most, in my opinion. Everything is cool and everything’s fine when everybody’s hitting shots, but when the boat is going down, who’s gonna step up? Who’s gonna be ready to go? I pride myself as being one of those guys.”
When it comes down to it, Brown is right; these kind of moments and lulls that the Celtics have been battling are testing grounds for the team and its leadership. It’s all well and good when things are going according to plan, but being able to step up when Murphy’s Law is in full effect is what real leaders are made of. It’s not just taking ownership of mistakes in front of a microphone, it’s galvanizing your team in the middle of the huddle and rallying your teammates together.
Let’s see how the team responds tonight as they take on the Portland Trail Blazers in game one of their back-to-back, 10 pm EST tipoff.