With the way their team is playing, it’s all been roses and butterflies within Celtics Nation this season. Things are simply going their way, time and again… until a few days ago.
Early in the game against Eastern Conference rivals Philadelphia 76ers, in what was supposed to be a routine rebound, tough luck came out of nowhere when their number two man, All-Star Jaylen Brown, got elbowed in the face by their headlining star, Jayson Tatum.
It was eventually revealed to be a maxillary fracture.
Basing it off on how cautious teams’ medical staff are these days and the sensitivity of face-related injuries, Brown could sit out beyond the All-Star break. Also, note that the 26-year-old just got done dealing with other issues this past month, including adductor tightness.
It’s a frustrating part of the sport, especially when you consider how good Brown has been. Prior to Thursday’s contest, which prematurely ended his night and brought his numbers down, he was registering career-highs 27.0 points and 7.0 rebounds per game on 49% shooting.
In fact, while playing behind a top-level NBA MVP candidate in Tatum, he earned another All-Star nod, his third out of the last four seasons. He won’t be able to participate, unfortunately.
Here’s more flowers for Jaylen, a look back at his 41-point output opposite the New Orleans Pelicans last month. Note that the Pels entered the contest as the No. 5 defensive team in the league.
The timing is awful, but the Celtics should be fine
Though there’s concern, the defending Eastern Conference champs shouldn’t sweat this one out. There’s a reason why they are expected to be back in the finals, and maybe even take home the coveted hardwood this time (no jinx).
Further, it’s not lost that they are still 40-16, owners of the best record in the league for pretty much the entire season so far, and ranking inside the top 5 of various stat categories, including points per game (117.4), net rating (+6.0), offensive rating, and defensive rating.
Their main man also has “MVP” written all over him, albeit against strong contenders. Even if we factor in what Nikola Jokic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Luka Doncic have done with their respective teams, which are all great, Tatum still has a serious case to take the prestigious award. He is boasting 30.8 points, 8.6 boards, 4.5 dimes, and 3.3 threes this season, all of which are career-highs. There’s also a long list of top-notch performances that includes yet another 50-piece, a feat that allowed him to surpass Larry Bird in the franchise books, as well as seven other outings with 40 or more. Moreover, he’s well-poised to become the first Celtic to average 30-plus PPG in a season.
On Saturday (Manila time), with his budding star out, he blasted the hapless Charlotte Hornets, firing away a game-high 41 points with five treys. The Celtics won, 127-116, but it was closer than it looks as they actually led by as much as 28.
Supposed secondary scorer Derrick White, meanwhile, also had a career night in the game. While filling Brown’s spot in the starting five, he chipped in career-highs 33 points and eight three-pointers. It’s yet another testament to how well-built the this team is. It’s next man up, and when called up, the next man up is highly capable of playing his role well. Heck, even newcomer Mike Muscala, who was acquired right before the trade deadline, contributed smoothly, splashing four threes for 16 points off-the-bench.
The prior 106-99 win over the visiting Sixers was also telling. It was fun to see how well the supporting cast can pick up the slack. With Tatum having an off-night, wherein he finished 5-for-15 for a season-low 12 points, others rose and the team eventually finished with five other guys who were also in double figures – White and Malcolm Brogdon each had 19, Grant Williams and Blake Griffin both added 15 points (all threes), with the latter also playing a spot-up shooter’s role, and Sam Hauser having 14 on a perfect 4-for-4 from downtown.
The Celtics have three games left before the break. They’ll welcome the Memphis Grizzlies on Monday, make a quick detour to Milwaukee on Wednesday, then come back home on Thursday to face the Detroit Pistons. All are good matchups, winning the first two can result in furthering their mark, while the third matchup should be easier than usual, thus allowing them to gain more confidence.