Waiting there was Luka Doncic. The Slovenian superstar returned from a three-game absence this past Wednesday in a loss to the Los Angeles Lakers, but due to their contest against the Golden State Warriors being postponed, Dallas was riding a four-day break heading into their game against Boston.
Boston ended the night on top, and at the core of their 119-110 win was the battle of Jaylen Brown vs. Doncic.
From the jump, Brown was ready.
“No,” Brown said when asked if he requested to guard Doncic. “But I feel like I’m one of the better defenders in the league, if not the [best] defender in the league, so it’s a challenge that I feel like should be bestowed on me. So, whatever night, my body is in a different shape. I’m guarding the best players night-to-night.”
Doncic ended the game with 33 points, but it took him 30 attempts to get there, as he shot just 12-of-30 from the field and 2-of-8 from three-point range.
The Mavericks star is one of the most dynamic offensive players in the league. Dallas’ heliocentric offense runs with him at the center, and while Brown’s pressure wasn’t 100% effective, it wore on Doncic.
Brown picked him up at half court, fought through screens, and made sure to send him right into Al Horford or whoever was waiting in the paint for the Celtics when the Mavericks ran a pick-n-roll.
As the game went on, and Doncic got more and more frustrated with the officials, the back-and-forth became more pronounced.
By the end of the fourth quarter, as Dallas was attempting to keep a horse in the race, the two stars took over the court. From the 5:31 to 3:54 marks in the fourth quarter, they made play after play.
A momentum-gathering Doncic step-back three. A silencing Brown middy over the outstretched hand of Doncic. A pair of Doncic free throws. A Brown and-one triple in the corner to put Boston up by 11. A massive Brown block on Maxi Kleber that stuffed an almost sure-fire dunk.
Brown got the final blow of that exchange, helping propel the Celtics to victory, and he also got the biggest eyebrow raiser over Doncic on the night.
With 5:29 to go in the second quarter, Brown drove right with Doncic, running with him step-for-step. But then he cut back. And Doncic went tumbling to the court with the force of a Redwood that just got chopped down by a lumberjack.
“I saw that video,” Doncic said. “I can’t lie, that was really nice.”
The play was so ferocious that American Airlines Center showed the replay on their jumbotron — the replay of their own player getting crossed up.
“That’s crazy,” Brown said. “Somebody needs to get fired if they did that.”
But Brown still praised Doncic for his willingness to guard.
“Just being aggressive. It happens. It’s a part of basketball,” Brown said of the crossover. “I respect him for getting out there and trying. Even in the second half, instead of trying to hide him, they tried to put him on me. And he got some stops toward the end of the game. So, respect to respect to him, but it’s part of basketball. Just come out and play hard.”
Brown and Tatum both finished the night with elite two-way performances under their belt. But more importantly, a Celtics win.