NBA notebook: Celtics’ Brown an MVP candidate when at his best, according to Smart

BOSTON — While Jayson Tatum represents the Celtics as the face of the franchise, MVP candidate and first-team All-NBA star, he’s far from their sole reason for success. The Celtics are contenders because of their depth and versatility, which Tatum is responsible for steering toward another NBA Finals berth.

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

“Just the things that he’s doing when he’s at his best, are the same things (Tatum) is doing at his, and JT has been in the talks for that MVP race,” Smart said. “When JB is playing the way he’s playing at his highest peak, he’s in that race, too.”

Brown is averaging a career-high 25.3 points per game as the Celtics’ second option. While Tatum soaks up a lot of defensive attention, Brown is another guy who needs to be accounted for. Brown’s also shooting 48.7% from the field, and he’s upped his free-throw percentage to a career-best 80.5%. There are still some areas to work on, like the 3.4 turnovers a game, but that’s part of the learning process.

The Tatum-Brown pair was on full display Wednesday against the Mavericks. Tatum poured in 37 points and 13 rebounds, getting to the free-throw line for a 13-for-15 showing. But it was also Brown who got to the bucket at will on his way to 31 points, four rebounds and four assists.

While Brown has only made one All-Star game in his career — back in the 2020-21 season — he’s making 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’s a clear difference-maker for Boston. There are still plenty of games until those selections are made, but Brown should be right in the thick of that conversation.

“I was joking with Jaylen,” Smart said. “In the Old Western, when you’re in a shootout, you’ve got a gun on this one. And I told him we also have another one with you over here. We got two sharpshooters that can do some damage, so when JB is playing at his highest, he’s an MVP candidate as well.”

LAKERS: The NBA gave Patrick Beverley a three-game suspension, two days after the Los Angeles Lakers’ guard was ejected for shoving Phoenix’s Deandre Ayton from behind.

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

It’s the second time Beverley has been suspended for shoving someone from behind; the other came in the last game of the Los Angeles Clippers’ 2021 playoff run, when he struck Suns guard Chris Paul from the back and had to sit out the first game of the 2021-22 season.

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

Beverley was ejected with 3:55 left in the Lakers’ loss at Phoenix on Tuesday. Phoenix’s Devin Booker committed a flagrant foul against the Lakers’ Austin Reaves, who remained down on the floor briefly after the hit. Ayton stepped toward Reaves when he was still down, and Beverley charged in to give Ayton a shove. Ayton and Beverley were both assessed technical fouls, and Beverley was ejected.

“Tough foul, hard foul, Austin gets knocked down, there’s a little bit of chirping going on with Book and Ayton and some of our guys, and then from what I saw Ayton was just standing there about to walk over him,” Lakers Coach Darwin Ham said. “And then Pat Bev … you don’t want this to be a tough-man competition. You actually want to play tough basketball. But at the end of the day, I’m not mad at him. He’s there protecting his teammate.”

The Lakers, who are off to a 5-11 start, will be without Beverley for games at San Antonio on Friday and Saturday, as well as a home game against Indiana on Monday.

Beverley will be eligible to return Wednesday against Portland. He is averaging a career-low 4.1 points this season on just 27% shooting.

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