Malcolm Brogdon and Celtics bench escape slump in win over Mavericks

Malcolm Brogdon cut off Josh Giddey’s lane to the rim, blocking him and sprinting forward in transition. Isaiah Joe, Aaron Wiggins and Kenrich Williams beat him to the opposite rim, a spot on the floor he’s struggled to reach this season. Brogdon reversed to the right corner, spotted Jayson Tatum trailing and led him into free throws in the paint.

Despite a shooting slump, Brogdon has continued to facilitate, accumulating three assists with no turnovers in the Celtics’ disastrous loss at the Thunder on Tuesday. He provided his assessment to the Boston Globe, noting that the Celtics relaxed when Oklahoma City ruled out Shai Gilgeous-Alexander pre-game. He struggled, like many teammates, to generate his own shot in the laydown, finishing 4-for-12 and 36% from the field over his last eight games (24.2% 3PT).

The slump ended momentarily in Dallas last night when he scored 15 points with four assists and one turnover. The first bench rotation set the tone for a badly needed win.

“JT and JB have been doing their job,” Grant Williams said, recounting what Joe Mazzulla told the Celtics’ role players at shootaround. “He challenged us and we responded … he’s called out (Brown and Tatum enough), keeping everyone accountable … it was like, ‘alright, if that’s the case, let’s go be better.’ It’s never anything personal with this team. You have to respond and when you’re challenged, you’ve better just step it up. Whether you step up or not, that’s dependent on how much character and how much heart you have.”

Grant replaced Jaylen Brown and Brodgon played extra minutes after Derrick White and Brown faced first quarter foul trouble. Both entered earlier than usual, four minutes into the first quarter. Brogdon missed his first shot, but Smart fronted Luka Doncic to get the ball back and Grant hit a three to push the Celtics ahead.

Jayson Tatum broke Brogdon out of another slow start by chasing down Grant’s missed three possessions later and found him for a wide open three. Mazzulla left the game loving the team’s intention to generate over half of their field goal attempts from deep.

Brogdon hit only two threes over his last five games entering Thursday, but remained 42.1% after a scorching start to the season. The rim eluded him the whole way; Brogdon is now shooting 48% at the rim on 3.0 attempts per game.

He’s hitting 51.2% in the restricted area and 45.2% outside of it in the paint. While his 55.6% efficiency inside three feet doesn’t fall far behind his career mark of 59.3%, most players hit 70% inside three feet. Brogdon blew a shocking number of layups during the season’s first half, and attempted 26.5% of his attempts between 3-10 feet from the basket on floaters and short-range jumpers. There, he shot 43.9%, below the league average of 44.7%.

“We definitely can (get more shots at the rim),” he said CLNS Media/CelticsBlog last month. “I think a big piece for us is spacing, generating good offense, getting shots at the rim and I think a lot of that is on me, because I think I’m one of the better drivers on the team, guys that get to the rim. I think I’ve got to get to the rim more, but as a team, we’ve got to put more pressure on the rim, attack the paint, get to the corners, flatten the defense and have better spacing so guys have room to operate.”

The Celtics made Brogdon, like many of his teammates, one of their spacers due to his reliable jumper. While Brown and Tatum both finish 70% of their shot attempts inside, Brogdon takes nearly 40.8% of his attempts from behind the line, up from 33.9% in his career. That’s fine when he’s able to join the starters. With the second unit, Brogdon needs to find ways to leverage himself in the lane to create shots. White, Grant and others grew less involved over the past month.

That changed in the second quarter. The group defended, even as they missed shots, and built a double-digit lead into the second quarter allowing only 85.7 points per 100 possessions in three minutes.

Brogdon found Brown ahead of the defense, cutting and finishing a three-point play after catching a bounce pass in the lane from Grant in the corner. He attacked the basket to find Smart in the corner for three in the third quarter, hitting a triple of his own on the next play. The Celtics led by 22.

“We needed to really step up,” Brogdon said. “I think that’s every facet of the game, whether that’s making shots, defending better, just coming in and filling in the gaps, and I thought we answered the call tonight. Just consistency. A lot of the time, we feed off the energy of the first group, and whether they come out flat or not making shots, whatever it is, it’s our job to come in there and pick them up, and I think when we don’ t, we’re not doing our job.”

Brogdon and the second unit started the year sensationally, as the Celtics led the NBA in efficiency from the field (50.7%) and from three (44.6%) off the bench through their 12-3 start. Since, the second unit is shooting 46.3% (15th) and 36.4% 3PT (8th), with a 7.5:5.3 assist-to-turnover ratio. They lost their minutes by 16 points.

The defensive stats stick out for Brogdon, specifically, as one of the most shocking teams struggling to guard isolations gives up the most points per possession (1.39) when Brogdon gets lined up. It only happens 1.0 possessions per game in his case, but that efficiency allowed ranks in the third percentile. Opponents shot 51.9% when guarded by Brogdon, which ranks last on the Celtics. Miscommunications in a new system play a part as well.

At times, he can move lethargically and although he missed four games with hamstring tightness in November, he said he feels fresh due to a limited workload, averaging only 23.4 minutes per game compared to 33.5 last year. That keeps him on pace to play close to 70 games after three seasons where he failed to reach 60. Nights like Thursday, where he can play more with the team’s regular cast, allow Brogdon to balance acclimation with rest.

“I think the plan is to manage me as well as possible, but it’s really game-to-game, whatever the team needs,” Brogdon told CLNS/CelticsBlog last month. “That’s where my minutes will really lie. If they need me more in the games, Imma play more than 20-25, but that’s the goal, is for me to be managed and be smart heading into the postseason.”

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