NBA Notebook: Celtics’ Brown is an MVP candidate if he’s at his best, according to Smart

BOSTON — While Jayson Tatum represents the Celtics as the face of the franchise, MVP contender and first-team All-NBA star, he is far from their sole reason for success. The Celtics are contenders for their depth and versatility that has propelled Tatum to another NBA Finals berth.

But it’s not just him. As Luka Doncic said before the Celtics beat the Mavericks on Wednesday, the Celtics are dangerous because of their duo of Tatum and their colleague Jaylen Brown. Brown is still building his accolades in the NBA, but there’s no denying his talent. And if Brown is playing at his highest level, Marcus Smart said the 25-year-old star should also be part of that MVP conversation alongside Tatum.

“Just the things that he does when he’s at his best are the same things that (Tatum) does with him and JT has been in the talks for that MVP race,” said Smart. “If JB plays like he’s playing at his peak, he’s in that race too.”

As the Celtics’ second option, Brown is averaging a career-high 25.3 points per game. While Tatum draws a lot of defensive attention, Brown is another guy to consider. Brown also shoots 48.7% from the field and he’s boosted his free throw percentage to a career-best 80.5%. There are still some areas that need work, like the 3.4 turnovers per game, but that’s part of the learning process.

The Tatum-Brown pair was in full play against the Mavericks on Wednesday. Tatum scored 37 points and 13 rebounds and reached the free throw line for a 13-on-15 show. But it was also Brown who hit the bucket at will on his way to 31 points, four rebounds and four assists.

While Brown has only completed one All-Star game in his career — in the 2020-21 season — he makes a strong case for another appearance with the league’s best. It also helps that the Celtics are one of the best teams in the league and Brown is a clear difference maker for Boston. There are still many games to go before that pick is made, but Brown should be right in the middle of this conversation.

“I was joking with Jaylen,” Smart said. “In the Old Western, if you’re in a gunfight, here’s a gun. And I told him we have another one over here with you. We have two snipers that can do some damage. So if JB plays highest, he’s also an MVP candidate.”

LAKERS: The NBA handed Patrick Beverley a three-game suspension two days after the Los Angeles Lakers guard was thrown out for a shove from Phoenix’s Deandre Ayton.

The suspension will cost Beverly $268,966, or about 2.1% of his $13 million salary.

It’s the second time Beverley has been suspended for pushing someone from behind; The other came in the final game of the Los Angeles Clippers’ 2021 playoff run when he hit Suns guard Chris Paul from behind and sat out the first game of the 2021-22 season.

“The suspension was based in part on Beverly’s history of unsportsmanlike conduct,” the NBA said in announcing the sanction.

Beverley was ejected with 3:55 left in Tuesday’s Lakers loss in Phoenix. Phoenix’s Devin Booker committed a flagrant foul on the Lakers’ Austin Reaves, who remained prone shortly after the goal. Ayton stepped towards Reaves while he was still down and Beverley rushed in to give Ayton a shove. Ayton and Beverley were both assessed technical fouls, and Beverley was ejected.

“Hard foul, hard foul, Austin gets knocked down, there’s a bit of a chirp with Book and Ayton and some of our guys, and then from what I saw, Ayton just stood there and wanted to go over him,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said . “And then Pat Bev… you don’t want this to be a tough competition. You actually want to play hard basketball. But at the end of the day, I’m not mad at him. He’s there, protecting his teammate.”

The Lakers, who started 5-11, will be without Beverley on Friday and Saturday in San Antonio, as well as in a home game against Indiana on Monday.

Beverly can return against Portland on Wednesday. He has a career-low 4.1 points this season on just 27% shooting.

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