Fresh off his career night, one in which he produced only the 11th 50-point regular-season game in Celtics history, and joined an even more select group of players with 50-plus point, 10-plus rebound performances (only Jayson Tatum, Larry Bird, and Kevin McHale in that club), Jaylen Brown uttered the perfect motto for the 2021-22 Celtics.
"We just needed to f—ing win."
Put it on T-shirts. Sell them at the 7uice shop in the Seaport and TD Garden, too.
It was essentially a more crass spin on the famous Al Davis suggestion. Just. Bleepin’. Win. (Baby).
In a season overflowing with candidates for worst loss, the Celtics were set to welcome a new leader in the clubhouse on Sunday. Boston trailed by 14 with little more than four minutes to play in the fourth quarter against a Magic squad that looked like a bunch of randomized NBA 2K create-a-player characters.
But Brown wouldn’t allow it. With shades of Isaiah Thomas and his thrilling 52-point night against the Heat from almost exactly six years ago, Brown erupted for 21 fourth-quarter points. He relentlessly attacked the basket and made eight of his nine shots inside the arc.
Then, after delivering Boston to overtime, Brown watched his defender go under a screen and punctuated his scoring output with a straightaway 3-pointer that helped Boston hang on for a much-needed triumph.
Oh sure, it would have been nice if Boston, coming off maybe its best win of the season against the Suns on Friday, didn’t turn the ball over 21 times, or didn't dig themselves another maddening double-digit hole against an inferior opponent. But beggars can’t be choosers.
And with maybe two weeks to surge and convince team brass that they're a product worth investing in, the Celtics found a way to win the sort of game that has routinely slipped away from them the past two seasons.
"We needed to win," said Brown. "No way we could have lost this game. Wouldn’t have been good."
That might have been an understatement. There were already headlines last week wondering if the Celtics should break up the core of this team, some suggesting that even Brown wasn’t off limits in possible deals.
But after a series of disheartening losses late in calendar year 2021, a wire-to-wire win over the Suns on New Year's Eve offered a tiny glimmer of hope. Despite playing without Tatum, Robert Williams, and Romeo Langford on Sunday, a loss would have only heightened the calls for the Celtics to adopt a future focus and ponder more drastic trade opportunities.
Instead, it’s survive and advance. The Celtics still sit ninth in the Eastern Conference and little about Sunday’s win will inspire confidence in their ability to hang with the conference elite. But it beats the alternative.
Just. Bleepin’. Win.
The Celtics should get Tatum back for Wednesday’s visit from the Spurs. Boston’s next five games are against teams with a sub-.500 record. There is a chance to build some actual momentum and get a glimpse at what this team looks like at something closer to full health.
It might not ultimately matter. Maybe Brad Stevens has to eventually embrace the reality that these Celtics have not consistently shown themselves capable of hanging with the caliber of opponent they’ll see in the playoffs, especially if fighting from the bottom half of the playoff bracket. But building some momentum and playing with a consistency that better resembles the Suns win than the Magic triumph would at least make Stevens and his staff think harder about a less drastic path forward.
Again, there’s plenty to nitpick about Sunday’s effort. But instead of finding new and infuriating ways to lose a game, the Celtics showed the sort of resolve that could actually endear this team to its fanbase if Boston played like that more often.
So, for at least the next couple weeks, the priority is results over style points.
Just. Bleepin’. Win.