TORONTO — MarShon Brooks believes he can provide instant offense, the way he did when he lit up the scoreboard at Providence College, and during his rookie season with the Nets, when he averaged 12.6 points.
It has been a struggle for the new Celtics guard this preseason, though. He’s playing in a crowded backcourt with fellow shooting guards Avery Bradley, Courtney Lee, Jordan Crawford and Keith Bogans.
Rotations, lineups, combinations — they’ve been different. Yet through it all, Brooks’s minutes have been limited, leaving him with few chances to show what he can do.
But late in Wednesday’s preseason game between the Celtics and Raptors at Air Canada Centre, Brooks offered an impressive glimpse, scoring 15 of his team-high 17 points in the fourth quarter of the Celtics’ 99-97 loss. It was Boston’s fifth loss in six preseason games.
“My time is limited because we’ve got so many guards,” he said, adding, “and if I see any open looks that I like, it’s my job to just knock it down.”
It was the most Brooks had scored all preseason, besting his 13-point performance in 16 minutes during the Celtics’ 111-81 win against the New York Knicks last week.
Brooks had played sparingly, just 50 total minutes, with 35 coming in two games alone. In the others, he barely stepped on the court for long enough to notice — and in one he didn’t step on the court at all.
But Brooks knew Wednesday that he’d likely play more. The Celtics were without Bogans, who has a sprained right thumb, and Gerald Wallace (rest) and Kris Humphries (sore right foot) would also be sitting out. Minutes were up for grabs.
“I knew I was going to get my opportunity to play,” he said. “I just wanted to be aggressive.”
Nothing fell in the first half, when he shot 1 for 3 and had 2 points. Then he missed both of his shots in the third quarter. Time was running out.
The Celtics entered the fourth trailing, 80-70. He scored on a put-back layup to open the quarter, then hit a 19-foot jumper. After a Jared Sullinger layup, Brooks knocked down a 3-pointer.
But the Raptors kept in front, leading by 10 entering the final 2:30. Brooks knocked down a pair of free throws, a 3-pointer, then another 3-pointer with a defender in his face that cut Toronto’s lead to 97-95, with 24.9 seconds left.
The game was comical on the final possession. Toronto guard Julyan Stone blew a wide-open dunk, then the ball was passed up the court to Sullinger, who was wide-open under the basket.
Sullinger isn’t known for his vertical leap and he didn’t do anything to change that opinion by barely jumping high enough to clear a phone book as he went up for a potential game-tying bucket just before the buzzer sounded.
But, somehow, Sullinger’s shot hit the underside of the rim, sealing the Celtics’ loss.
For Brooks, though, the game was what he had been waiting on.
“In the first half, it wasn’t really going my way, but I stayed with it,” he said. “I stayed confident and kept shooting it. I worked hard, all offseason. I just trusted my craft. If I get an open look, I’m going to knock it down.”
Does he feel pressure to perform in his cameo performances, considering the crowded backcourt?
“No, I don’t really feel the pressure, but I guess there is,” he said. “I just go out there and play. We’re all fighting for time. We’re all fighting for minutes. I’m just trying to show coach exactly what I can do.”
“He’s had some moments, especially in these late games. There’s no question about it,’’ said coach Brad Stevens. “I think one of the things [is] that we’re still looking; we’re still trying to figure it all out. Every minute of this preseason matters. Certainly, whether it is in practices or games, everything is going to be taken into account.”
Stevens said Wednesday was another case when the Celtics didn’t play a complete game.
“I just said in the locker room, we’ve got to become more of a 48-minute team instead of a 38-minute team,” Stevens said. “We’re pretty good for 38 minutes, and we’ve got to maintain that focus and that level of play through that. I don’t know if that’s a function of the preseason or whatever the case may be, but we’ve got to start establishing that sooner rather than later.”
Wednesday’s game wraps up an six-games-in-nine-days stretch for the Celtics. Looking back over the grind, Stevens said he was happy the team played well on the second night of both back-to-back sets.
He also said that the close games in the fourth quarter have been somewhat helpful in preparing the Celtics for late-game situations.
“I feel 10 times better tonight than the first time we played Toronto, as far as the way that the game flows,” Stevens said, referring to the Celtics’ 97-89 preseason-opening loss to the Raptors at TD Garden Oct. 7. “I feel like the person who’s benefited the most from the preseason will have been me.”
The Celtics will return to Canada twice more in the coming weeks, first to play a preseason game against the Minnesota Timberwolves in Montreal Sunday as part of the second annual NBA Canada Series, then on Oct. 30 for their regular season opener against the Raptors in Toronto.