After a game earlier this season, a reporter asked Jaylen Brown about being the Celtics No. 1a option, suggesting that he was almost on the same level as fellow All-Star Jayson Tatum, but not quite. Brown bristled at the suggestion, saying that he does not view himself that way.
To be fair to Brown, he is the NBA’s ninth-leading scorer, just three slots behind Tatum, and his shooting percentages are considerably better. But there are nights when Brown has the main stage to himself, and he relishes them.
“When you get an opportunity to be the guy that everybody is kind of leaning on, it’s a privilege,” he said. “It’s an honor. So, I don’t take those moments for granted. I come out each and every night and strap my shoes up and get my guys ready to go.”
On Sunday, with Tatum sidelined due to a hip contusion, Brown made 18 of 29 shots — 16 of 19 two-pointers — and erupted for 41 points and 13 rebounds, leading the Celtics to a 137-93 romp over the lowly Spurs.
In an interview with The New York Times earlier this month, Brown described some issues he has with part of the Celtics fan base. It bothers him some do not want to see him use his platform to discuss social issues. He also voiced frustrations about some reactions to his play.
“It is a part of the fan base that exists within Celtics nation that is problematic,” Brown said then. “If you have a bad game, they tie it to your personal character.”
His words seemed to resonate on Sunday night. When Brown went to the bench midway through the fourth quarter, he received a loud and lengthy standing ovation, an unusually strong reaction to a very good game.
Asked about that reception, though, it seemed it had not warmed him.
“I just come out every day to do my job,” Brown said. “That’s all I’m focused on.”
Malcolm Brogdon added 20 points Sunday for the Celtics, who made 57.1 percent of their shots and closed the game with a 65-27 run. Boston (52-23) has crafted three blowout wins in a row and is just 1½ games behind the conference-leading Bucks.
Boston spent most of this season in first place before Milwaukee pushed in front Feb. 27. The Bucks have been there ever since. The Celtics have mostly brushed off the importance of playoff seeding. Last year, they went to the Finals from the No. 2 slot, after all.
But after Sunday’s win, Brogdon made a rare and somewhat forceful declaration about the top spot.
“It was sort of a shock to us that we had dropped, because we had created some separation between us and them,” Brogdon said. “That’s something we want. We want the No. 1 seed. I think this team understands the importance of having homecourt advantage in the playoffs, so that’s something we are going after.”
The Celtics visit the Wizards on Tuesday before visiting Milwaukee for a showdown on Thursday. The winner of that game will secure the tiebreaker between the two teams.
This matchup against the Spurs had considerably less fanfare, but sometimes that can be alarming. The Celtics lost to the last-place Rockets earlier this month and struggled to put away the Spurs in their January meeting. And early in the second quarter Sunday, the Spurs led, 38-30.
“You come out and you think just because of the situation, it’s supposed to be a 15-, 20-point game in the first quarter, and I actually liked the fact that it wasn’t,” Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla said. “So we kept playing. We managed our own expectations as far as it doesn’t matter what it’s supposed to be like. We just played, we executed, and then we were able to break the game open.”
After failing to force a turnover in the first quarter, the Celtics forced six in the second and raced upcourt at every opportunity. A 13-2 burst was followed soon after by an 11-0 run, helping Boston take a 68-58 lead at halftime.
The Spurs lingered at the start of the third. They sliced the deficit to 72-66 and had a pair of chances to pull even closer, but they never did. A baseline jumper by Brown followed by a tough, driving layup stretched Boston’s lead back to 90-74.
With 1:14 left in the third quarter, guard Marcus Smart received his second technical foul of the game, for directing derogatory language at an official, and was automatically ejected. He appeared stunned as he walked off the court, smiling and shaking his head. But the Celtics did not really need him anymore on this night. A pair of Derrick White 3-pointers early in the fourth stretched the lead to 105-77, and the lead only swelled from there.
“We feel like we’re playing with a better purpose,” center Robert Williams said.