Nursing a two-point lead with twelve seconds left, the Celtics needed a sure-handed veteran to hit two free throws and seal the game. With the floor spread out, Boston’s steadying force all season came to the ball. With the game in the balance, it was Malcolm Brogdon that stepped up to the line.
So much has been said about the Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum growing up, the connective tissue of Derrick White, and how much Robert Williams raises the ceiling of this team. But then there’s Brogdon. He’s never started a game for the Celtics, serving as the second unit floor general and more so, a calming presence for the entire roster.
“Just taking the best available shot and being aggressive,” Brogdon told NBC Sports Boston’s Abby Chin on his mentality heading into the final homestand and a chance to lock in their spot in the playoffs. “My team relies on me to be aggressive off the bench, to be a spark, and I try and be that every night.”
With Marcus Smart, Jayson Tatum, and Al Horford out on the second night of the back-to-back, Brogdon lead Boston in scoring with 29 points and three assists in a 97-93 win to clinch the #2 seed in the Eastern Conference.
According to our friends over at DraftKings, Brogdon (+330) is second in odds for Sixth Man of the Year behind the New York Knicks’ Immanuel Quickley (-550). But if you ask his coach and teammates, the 30-year-old vet who is having his most efficient season since leaving the Bucks should be the frontrunner for the award.
“It would mean a lot,” head coach Joe Mazzulla said of Brogdon’s deserving candidacy. “The humility that he brings to our team. He takes that pride in that second unit. In order to have a great team, you have to have people like that. We have guys like that from top to bottom. Malcolm has come in here with patience, humility, and understanding. Credit to the locker room for embracing him and empowering him. I hope he gets it. He deserves it. When he plays at a high level, we’re really good.”
The accolades don’t matter to Brogdon though. All season, he’s talked about recognizing how special of an opportunity it is to play for this city and bring it another championship.
“It’d be great. I think it would be a testament to the team,” Brogdon said of the distinction. “We have guys on this team that are accomplishing a lot this year. We have two All-Stars. Probably two All-NBA guys. Derrick might make All-Defensive. It would be another award for the team. But that’s not my focus. That’s not the team’s focus.”
For Brogdon, he knew what to expect when he was traded to the Celtics. President of Basketball Operations Brad Stevens was upfront with him about being a sixth man. It’s a situation that he’s embraced along with being a model teammate to the younger players, but that doesn’t mean it’s been easy.
“Coming off the bench, it can be a challenge at times, to be honest. Having a career where you start your whole career and then you come off the bench, there are nights where you gotta suck it up,” Brogdon said.
“You’re not going to score as much or play as much, but I think that’s what makes a great team, having guys that are able to do that, having guys that are able to sacrifice. Because it’s not me sacrificing every night. Every night, it’s a different guy.”
It’s that mentality that has fortified the defending Eastern Conference champs and made them even better heading into the playoffs — all according to plan if you ask Brogdon.
‘That’s everything to me,” Brogdon said about being part of a contender. “I want to win. The two seasons for me (in Indiana) were rough not being able to win. I’m a winner. I feel like I’ve been known as a winner, I want to be known as a winner when I’m done playing in this league, and I want to win at the highest level and that’s winning a championship.”
“Being in Boston, being a Celtic fits me perfectly.”