The ending was a disaster.
With Jayson Tatum sidelined, the Boston Celtics battled with the Indiana Pacers on Monday night in hopes of earning a second-straight victory. Instead, a game that electrified Gainbridge Fieldhouse concluded in controversy.
A foul on Jaylen Brown was overturned, and Kristaps Porzingis was called for a foul on Bennedict Mathurin that led to free throws, eventually icing the game for Indiana.
Boston’s shaky third quarter and brutal showing from the free-throw line caused the loss, not the final seconds of referee-induced madness. And past that, Brown’s decision to drive into three defenders and take a contested jumper can be questioned, too.
But it shouldn’t overshadow his impressive night.
“He stepped up,” said head coach Joe Mazzulla. “I thought he didn’t force anything. Forty points on 26 shots. He was efficient. Let the game come to him. Scored in many different ways.”
Brown finished the game with a season-high 40 points to go along with five rebounds and two assists. He shot 17-of-26 from the field and 3-of-4 from behind the three-point line.
The efficiency with which he picked apart Indiana’s offense was reminiscent of his performance on Saturday night when he consistently attacked Tyrese Haliburton with success. However, with Tatum out, Brown kicked things up a notch.
His dominance in the painted area allowed the expansion of his game beyond the arc, an area he’s been cutting back on this year. And with the ball in his hands, the Celtics’ offense was at its best.
Defense is where the problems surfaced.
“I thought he organized the offense,” Mazzulla said. “I thought he organized his own really well. And like I said, I thought we all played a relatively decent offensive game, but we had no 25-point quarters and a 44-point third. So, we all have to be better on defense.”
Indiana punched Boston in the mouth in the second half. Tyrese Haliburton’s injury lit a fire under them, and the Celtics were backing up on their heels for the rest of the night.
Combined with the brutal finish and questionable shot choice, Brown’s night was overshadowed.
But the importance of Brown’s growth shouldn’t go unnoticed.
For the entirety of last season, Tatum’s absence from the court, let alone a game, led to terrible +/- numbers and a slog of an offense. Brown wasn’t able to lead Boston in the same way Tatum was, and the team suffered because of it.
Yes, having Jrue Holiday and Porzingis around helps, but the steps Brown has made as an offensive initiator have been massive. His aggression, paired with an ability to find the open man off the drive, has completely changed the outlook of the Celtics’ non-Tatum minutes (and games).
A sour ending shouldn’t take away from the acknowledgment of that evolution. Brown’s offense is new, revamped, and ready to help make the Celtics complete.