Celtics

5 takeaways from Celtics-Spurs, including Jaylen Brown’s smoked layup

The Celtics dropped a heartbreaker to the Spurs on Wednesday.

Spurs Celtics takeaways
Jaylen Brown watches as his would-be game tying layup teeters but does not fall. Barry Chin/Globe Staff

Twice, Jaylen Brown nearly won Wednesday’s game against the Spurs for the Celtics by making a phenomenal defensive play.

Both times, the Celtics came up short in a way seemingly written to tantalize fans, falling to the Spurs 99-97.

The second was the most prominent. With five seconds remaining, Brown fought and stayed attached to Dejounte Murray as the Spurs tried to inbound to their young guard. Murray couldn’t free himself from Brown, and a rattled Jock Landale narrowly avoided a five-second violation by passing straight to Brown, who streaked the other way.

Brown’s contested layup, however, hung on the rim for an extra second — just long enough to throw off Rob Williams’s attempt at a tip — and fell off the side.

After the game, Brown seemed incredulous.

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“I smoked the f—ing layup,” he said, “but we have to bounce back tomorrow.”

The first play was less directly linked to the loss. The Celtics were nearly in a position where they had to foul, but Brown poked the ball free from Derrick White in the backcourt and forced a jump ball. While White ultimately won the tip, the steal was the type of gutsy play we are used to seeing from Marcus Smart.

Brown — who had a game-high 30 points on 12-for-25 shooting — said it won’t be difficult to compartmentalize and get back on track for Thursday’s game against the Knicks.

“As tough as this loss was, we got to come back ready tomorrow,” Brown said. “I’m ready to play.”

More takeaways from Celtics vs. Spurs:

– Jayson Tatum admitted he was concerned about his breathing after testing positive for COVID-19 a second time. After his first bout, he needed an inhaler for the rest of the 2020-21 season. He felt better this time around, however.

“I won’t say I was nervous, but it was definitely heavy on my mind on the last night, today, the anticipation, and it kind of lingered into the game,” Tatum said. “I kind of questioned myself out there. I was tired. But I definitely felt better than the last time.

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“We all have to get used to it. It’s part of the new normal. It’s not going anywhere. But I’m starting to feel better.”

Tatum finished with 19 points on 6-for-20 shooting on Wednesday. He finished several powerful moves around the rim but went just 1-for-6 from deep.

Prior to the game, Tatum was honored along with Udoka and Gregg Popovich for winning Olympic gold this past summer. On the NBC Sports Broadcast, Chris Mannix noted that Tatum could become an all-time great Team USA player, given how many cycles will coincide with his career.

“That was special,” Tatum said. “I appreciate those guys. Getting a chance to see KJ and some of the other staff, and Pop as well. That was something that was a special bond that we’ll have forever. It was a special thing that we were able to accomplish. Something I’ll always remember. It’s always good seeing them and bringing back good memories from this past summer.”

– The Celtics’ offense bogged down again late, and Brown suggested the Celtics could play more through Robert Williams and Al Horford as a way to spruce up the offense and avoid inefficient iso sets.

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“I think even in this game when we went on good offensive stretches, the ball was coming from Al, coming from Rob, etc. and we were cutting, setting screens, and taking advantage of some of those actions how they were guarding us,” Brown said.

A little while later, somewhat unprompted, he continued.

“Those guys are great playmakers and depending on how teams guard us, that’s a way to get some better looks and some easier baskets rather than everything having to be an isolation or everything having to be a tough drive and kick,” he said. “We got to stick with that at times, there are times we like have the ball in our hands, etc. but playing through some of those guys is good for us and good for our team.”

Tatum said he could see “certain situations” when taking the ball out of his or Brown’s hands down the stretch could be advantageous.

“I think it just depends on the flow of the game, who’s playing well, obviously, who they have in the game matchup-wise,” Tatum said. “It’s hard to say we should do that every time, but there are situations where that would be beneficial for us and then there are situations where guards should have the ball in their hands.

“Basketball is all about reads and there can be a different read every play. NBA teams are good at switching things up, giving you different looks. So you can’t just do the same thing over and over again.”

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– The stats don’t appear to be readily available, but it’s tough to imagine a game with fewer combined attempted free throws than 14 — nine for the Celtics and five for the Spurs, especially since five matches a season-low for a team in 2021-22.

– Further evidence of the Celtics’ offensive stagnation late in the game: Marcus Smart finished with six assists, all six of which were in the first half (and five of which came in the first quarter).

That’s a mild indictment of Smart (who, it should be noted, did miss a layup he needed to make late) and a more pointed one toward the Celtics. Multiple times during the offseason, Brad Stevens said he was looking for players who would make the Celtics’ best players better. With Smart and Robert Williams on the floor, the Celtics outscore opponents by 5.9 points per 100 possessions. With Smart and Brown, they outscore opponents by 6.2. Only Tatum (1.9) seems largely unaffected by Smart’s minutes.

More late-game touches for Smart might encourage more ball movement in addition to running the offense through the bigs. To quote Tatum: “Basketball is all about reads and there can be a different read every play.”

The Celtics face the Knicks on Thursday at 7:30 p.m.

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