The oversized black mask covering Jaylen Brown’s face did little to shield his frustration.
Brown plopped down in front of the Zoom camera after the Toronto Raptors stunned the Boston Celtics on OG Anunoby’s improbable buzzer-beating 3-pointer and twice dubbed the final sequence a “f—cking disgrace.”
It’s Brown you’ll see on the highlight reel scrambling to contest Anunoby’s quick-release shot. It’s Brown’s outstretched hand that very nearly tips the offering. Instead, with Brown’s image plastered on the video wall behind the basket, Anunoby’s shot rattled home for a 104-103 triumph that took the defending champs off life support and injected new life into this Eastern Conference semifinal series.
"They made a remarkable shot. Still, it’s a f—ing disgrace,” vented Brown. "Terrible. No excuse for it. At all. It was ridiculous.”
For most of Thursday’s game we thought we’d be writing about Brown’s defense in this space. Just like in the first two games of this series, Brown routinely took on the challenge of jousting with Pascal Siakam — the Raptors’ most dynamic offensive weapon -- and routinely stymied the big man around the basket.
In fact, there was one sequence in which Brown denied Siakam’s original post-up attempt then blocked his shot on a re-post, which left Brown doing a Dikembe Mutombo-like fingerwag on his way back up the floor.
But Brown found himself in the wrong spotlight during Boston's final-play breakdown, one that wasn’t solely Brown's fault. The Celtics, as a unit, were quite literally a half-second slow to react. And it burnt them.
Brown didn’t point fingers. He didn’t throw Daniel Theis under the bus for being slow to cover Marc Gasol in the paint. He didn’t lament how Jayson Tatum let Anunoby run free down the baseline in order to pick up Fred VanVleet closer to the inbounder.
No, Brown put Boston’s loss squarely on his shoulders. It’s the sort of move that bodes well for the Celtics being able to move quickly past this gut-punch loss.
“That was just a f—ing disgrace at the end of the game. That was just terrible,” said Brown. "No way we should have lost that game. I take responsibility for that. Not just that play but a lot of the plays before."
Brown had some rough patches in Thursday’s game but did far more good than bad, particularly with his defense against Siakam. The Celtics as a whole struggled to slow down Kyle Lowry inside the arc and allowed Fred VanVleet to see some shots go through the net (particularly when Brad Stevens made the curious decision to go with Enes Kanter for center minutes in the second half with Boston in search of an offensive jolt).
Brown’s reaction should give Celtics fans confidence that the team will respond well during Saturday’s Game 4. If Anunoby misses that shot, or the Raptors otherwise bungle the last play, we’re gushing about Brown’s post defense or Walker’s total offensive exploits (including an insane bounce pass for a Theis dunk that probably should have been the winner).
Instead, Brown owned the stumble. Lowry deserves much of the credit for not only delivering a perfect cross-court pass but sending a rainbow over 7-foot-5 Tacko Fall and still putting it in the exact spot that Anunoby could catch and shoot in a mere 0.5 seconds.
Brown knows the challenge the Celtics face now and he’s embracing it.
“They’re the defending champs,” said Brown. "We knew they weren't going to go down without a fight so we gotta be ready to throw the next punch. That’s it. They responded, they made a remarkable play at the end of the game. The fight continues. Get ready for Game 4.”
And when he continued to get peppered with questions about the final sequence, Brown never relented.
"Me being four years in, I gotta be better,” he said. "Can’t give up the 3 at the end of the game.”
This is true. And there’s a case to be made that he should have been quicker to leave Gasol in the paint but that’s a tough risk-reward to process in the moment.
The Celtics need to tip their cap and move on. This is a chance to showcase whether they have championship resolve.
As Jayson Tatum noted: “We can’t change [Thursday’s outcome]. There’s nothing we can do about it. It happened. All we can do is focus on the next game and just be better.”
Or as Brown bottom-lined it: "We just needed one stop to win the f—ing game and we end up losing. But, you know, you move on.”
The Celtics better move on — especially if they want to move on in these playoffs.