Like everyone involved in Sunday’s 35-minute, rim-altering delay, Nuggets guard Bruce Brown had no idea how to pass the time.
As arena operations rotated between kiss cam, dance cam, and “The Wave,” Brown found himself near the free throw line dancing to some arena anthems. He was just trying to stay warm, he said, though his amusement suggested otherwise.
Starting in place of Jamal Murray, who rested his surgically-repaired knee on the first night of Denver’s back-to-back, Brown was essential in Sunday’s 123-111 win over the first-place Celtics. He finished 8-for-14 shooting for 21 points, including four 3-pointers. When Brown found himself open on the perimeter, at best, there was a modest level of interest in defending him.
“I hope they don’t (respect me),” said Brown, his perpetual chip-on-shoulder attitude searing through his answer. “Keep closing short. I’m good with that.”
Through 35 games, Brown is shooting a career-high 41% from 3-point range.
Sunday’s win was the latest during Denver’s torrid stretch to close 2022 and open 2023. In the past two weeks, the Nuggets have knocked off Memphis at home, Phoenix on Christmas, and on Sunday, they smothered the Celtics.
“Hopefully we see them in the future,” Brown said.
Having already faced each other twice this season, it didn’t take much to deduce that Brown was referencing a potential NBA Finals rematch. The Celtics’ loss dropped them to 26-11 on the season but they are still first in the East, while Denver’s win bolstered their 24-12, first-place record in the West.
“We don’t get to play them again, so that’s good for them,” Celtics forward Jaylen Brown said after the game, according to The Boston Globe.
Boston’s Brown finished with 30 points on 12-of-20 shooting. He also went face-to-face with Denver rookie Bones Hyland after the Nuggets’ guard had knocked him to the floor early in the fourth quarter.
It was a contentious moment, even though Hyland downplayed it after the game. But it was made more contentious by the implications of the win and the quality of both teams. Denver left Ball Arena feeling even more emboldened because its victory had come without Murray.
Brown, a Boston native, said he relished playing against the team he grew up admiring. Knowing his family was watching from home, Brown played with relentless energy, constantly chasing and hounding Celtics star Jayson Tatum. Though Tatum finished with 25 points, it was his 7-of-16 shooting night, coupled with five turnovers, which showcased Brown’s value. He, Aaron Gordon, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Christian Braun swarmed Boston’s wings, offering some preview of what a Finals matchup might look like.
Brown is fond of wearing Red Sox garb and even has a Red Sox tattoo to show his hometown pride. When he first entered the league, he briefly considered getting “Boston” tattooed as well, with the “O” in homage to the Celtics. He quickly thought better of it.
“No Celtics ink,” he said proudly.