The Celtics led the Grizzlies by 26 points when Jaylen Brown went to the bench with 2 minutes, 50 seconds left in the third quarter Wednesday.
Brown wasn’t aware of his point total, but he was well aware he was the main reason his team had pummeled Memphis so thoroughly up to that point. Then it was relayed to Brown that he had already tied his career high in points. He knew the lopsided score meant he would not have many more chances, but now he was hoping for just one more.
“I gave Brad [Stevens] a little wink and said, ‘Can I get two more minutes?’ ” Brown said. “He let me go back out.”
Brown then finished off the most masterful and efficient offensive performance of his career, scoring 8 more points to finish with a career-high 42 in just 29 minutes, leading Boston to a 126-107 romp.
The fifth-year forward made 15 of 21 shots, 7 of 10 3-pointers and 5 of 6 free throws, as he continues to nudge into the NBA’s upper tier with his inspired play to start this season.
“He was on fire,” Jayson Tatum said. “If a guy’s hitting like that, it means you’ve got to keep feeding him.”
The Celtics shot 53.8 percent from the field. The Grizzlies, who were without star guard Ja Morant, made 43 percent of their shots, becoming the first Celtics opponent to be held below 50 percent this season.
The Celtics had a comfortable 40-30 lead before they made it considerably more comfortable with a powerful 17-0 run that made it 57-30. Brown had the final 11 points of that flurry, with three 3-pointers and a layup, and he wasn’t finished.
He poured in 8 more points over a stretch of just 1:25 late in the second, the final two coming on a 20-footer that gave him 26 points in the half and gave Boston a 66-36 lead.
Observations from the game:
▪ Brown’s scoring burst will get the attention,but late in the third quarter, with 40 in his sights, he twice attacked the basket and kicked the ball to an open teammate. No one would have faulted him for chasing points in that situation, especially because he was probably going to sit during the fourth quarter.
“With that type of responsibility that Brad gave me, I still wanted to make sure I played basketball the right way,” Brown said. “It just happened to fall and stuff happened the way it did. Just tried to handle everything responsibly.”
Added center Daniel Theis: “That’s probably his biggest growth,” Theis said. “He’s making plays for his teammates.”
▪ With center Tristan Thompson resting his hamstring on the tail end of a back-to-back, Stevens went with a smaller lineup with point guard Jeff Teague taking Thompson’s place. Teague had not made a 2-point field goal since the season opener, but he connected on a floater and a left-handed finger roll in the opening minutes. He was most active on the defensive end, registering four steals.
“I thought Teague’s aggressiveness defensively in the last two games have really spearheaded us,” Stevens said. “I thought [Tuesday] at the end of the third, early fourth, he got his hands on a few balls, got some tips from behind. He anticipates so well, he’s seeing all the actions and all the plays, he knows what’s coming. You can see him peel back into plays off of help. So I think that that helped that first group go today.”
▪ The lineup shift moved Theis back to his more natural center position. He said becoming more familiar with the power forward slot alongside Thompson has been a bit of an adjustment this year.
For example, Theis said that when he is playing center and there is a fast-break, he sprints upcourt to get to the middle of the floor. Now, he has to check to make sure that space is not occupied by Thompson.
“I’ve got to go find my spot in the corner, be a spacer, cut more off the ball,” he said. “Also, on defense it’s a different view for me, not being directly involved in the pick-and-roll, stopping the ball. So I’ve got to see more on the help side and see my man as well.”
Theis said the Celtics should be stout defensively when he is on the court with Thompson, so he is eager to keep improving in this new role.
▪ It was almost lost amid Brown’s first-half scoring barrage, but Tatum drilled three 3-pointers over a stretch of less than two minutes in the second quarter, helping Boston stretch its lead to 46-30.
▪ The blowout gave 14th overall pick Aaron Nesmith, who had played just nine minutes all season before Wednesday, an extended run. He made 2 of 7 shots and had 5 points in 20 minutes, but didn’t show much to make it appear that he deserves more playing time right now.
▪ In the first half the Celtics had 11 steals, forced 13 turnovers and held Memphis to 37.2 percent shooting and 10.5 percent on 3-pointers. Boston finished the game with 17 steals.
“That’s our only chance of being a good defense,” Stevens said of the forced turnovers. “We’re not that yet, obviously, but there’s a lot of games left to become that.”
▪ Payton Pritchard had another solid stint off the bench in the first half. He pushes the pace for the Celtics quite well but also displays good poise in half-court sets. He’s adept at probing into the lane, resetting and then quickly finding a teammate with a quick pass into the area he just departed.
Pritchard finished with 8 points, 3 assists, 2 rebounds and 2 steals.
▪ The Celtics started the season with some national spotlight games, and that meant they also started the season with some tough competition. After playing the Bucks and Nets they had a pair of road games against the Pacers, another likely playoff team. On Wednesday, they had the body language of a team that was relieved to finally be getting a bit of a respite against an overmatched and undermanned Grizzlies team. It was low pressure and free flowing.
▪ During the first timeout the Celtics showed a video tribute for former player and coach K.C. Jones, who died on Christmas after a lengthy battle with Alzheimer’s.