Jaylen Brown was walking toward the locker room after erupting for a career-high 50 points in the Celtics’ 116-111 overtime win over the Magic on Sunday night at TD Garden when Dennis Schröder slithered up behind him holding two water bottles that were full and uncapped.
Brown found this out moments later, when those bottles were emptied onto his head. He obviously didn’t mind the dousing, though, because when Schröder came into the interview room after the game, he was holding Brown’s autographed No. 7 jersey, a gift for his nephew after Brown’s career night.
“It’s about time he scored 50,” Schröder said, smiling.
About an hour earlier, the Celtics certainly did not appear headed to such a rosy finish. Late in the third quarter boos rained down from the Garden crowd that was frustrated by the looming collapse, and by this point many of them decided to leave. Things got worse before they got better, with Boston trailing the Magic by 14 points with a little more than four minutes left in regulation.
But Brown helped rescue the Celtics from what might have become their new low point of this season, with 24 of his 50 points coming in the fourth quarter and overtime.
“He was being aggressive and going downhill, and nobody could stop him tonight,” Schröder said. “So, I think that’s what he needs to do more often.”
Brown has assumed a more prominent role over the past four games with Jayson Tatum out due to COVID-19 health and safety protocols, and he relishes these opportunities. But there were times when Brown appeared to be doing too much while trying to make up for the absence of his fellow All-Star, such as when he made just 13 of 36 shots and 1 of 13 3-pointers in last Wednesday’s loss to the Clippers.
On Sunday, five of his seven turnovers came in the first half, when the Celtics committed 14 as a team and saw their 14-point lead evaporate. But Brown steadied himself later and reached the 50-point mark on a 3-pointer with 1:28 left in overtime. He made 19 of 29 shots and also added 11 rebounds and 4 assists.
“I was just being aggressive, getting to the basket,” Brown said. “I didn’t feel like those guys could stay in front of me, so I was just going to keep getting to the basket, blowing by them on the first step, and I looked up and I had 47 and I was like, ‘Damn.’”
Schröder added 21 points and seven assists in his first game back from COVID-19 protocol, helping the Celtics overcome 22 turnovers as a team. In addition to Tatum (conditioning), the Celtics also were without Robert Williams (toe), Enes Kanter Freedom (COVID-19 protocol), Aaron Nesmith (COVID-19 protocol), and Romeo Langford (non-COVID illness).
The Magic (7-30) were missing a pair of starters, including leading scorer Cole Anthony, and were led by Terrence Ross’s 33 points.
The manner in which the Celtics won certainly delighted the crowd, because wild comebacks are always fun. But hidden beneath the rally was the fact that Boston had nearly collapsed against one of the NBA’s worst teams and lost all of its momentum from its big win over the Suns on Friday.
It’s a lot easier to talk about what went wrong when things ultimately end with what went right, but the Celtics understand that their mercurial approach is not really sustainable if they hope to turn around this season.
“We don’t want to be in those positions too often,” Brown said. “We might not get as lucky as we did tonight with the win. We’ve got to keep building good habits.”
Afterward, coach Ime Udoka focused on the brighter moments, saying he was proud to see his team show growth, particularly while still missing several key pieces. There’s hope, with a favorable January schedule and several looming returns, that this team could finally find a rhythm.
“Obviously, a little roller coaster there with the way we played,” Udoka said. “But to start the game and finish the game was what we’d like to see overall.”
The Celtics led by as many as 14 points in the first half, but their sloppy second quarter allowed the Magic to linger, and late in the third quarter Boston began to collapse. The Celtics led, 61-57, before the Magic closed the period with a 20-4 run that was capped by a Mo Bamba 3-pointer. By that time, the crowd had gone from disinterested to frustrated, as boos poured down.
Franz Wagner appeared to finish off the Celtics when his layup with 4:20 left stretched Orlando’s lead to 96-82. But Boston went to a small lineup that turned up the defensive pressure and needed just one minute to slice that deficit in half.
Brown pulled the Celtics within 98-96 with 1:40 left, and a minute later Marcus Smart ripped the ball away from Wagner and fed Brown for a layup, tying the score. Brown had a chance to win it in regulation but his jumper in the final seconds was off, forcing overtime.
The Celtics took control in the extra session, as a Brown 3-pointer and Josh Richardson layup stretched their lead to 110-104 with 1:11 left. Ross answered with a four-point play that sliced the deficit to two. Wendell Carter hit one of two free throws before Brown found Al Horford for a 3-pointer from the right corner with 26.8 seconds left.
“[Brown] took care of the ball and got the shots he wanted late in the game and then started to find guys as well, especially the big one to Al,” Udoka said.
The Magic could have had one final chance to tie, but Brown stepped in and won a jump-ball at Orlando’s end.
“We obviously don’t love to get down and have to do that,” Smart said, “but we love to be in those fights.”