TORONTO — With time ticking down late in the fourth quarter against the Toronto Raptors on Wednesday, MarShon Brooks rose for a three-pointer. The Boston Celtics' shooting guard had just come off a screen on the right wing, then created more space with a dribble to his left. The ball left his fingers and splashed in, cutting the Raptors' lead to two with 24.9 seconds to go. It gave Brooks 15 points in the quarter on 5-for-5 shooting, 3-for-3 from beyond the arc. There would have been a hell of a buzz in the building if it wasn't a preseason game.
The reality is it was as preseason as it gets. In the fourth quarter, Toronto played none of its starters. Four of them sat the entire third, too. The final moments saw Raptors guard Julyan Stone miss an uncontested dunk, giving Boston an opportunity to tie or win it. That's when Jordan Crawford airballed a three, Jared Sullinger missed a point-blank tip-in and Toronto won 99-97.
In a contest like this, does Brooks' barrage of buckets mean anything?
"We're still looking, and we're still trying to figure it all out," Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said. "Every minute of this preseason matters."
For Brooks, acquired from the Brooklyn Nets in July in the Kevin Garnett/Paul Pierce blockbuster, it's at least a demonstration of his ability. If Boston needs offense in a hurry, Brooks is capable of providing it.
"He's a scoring machine," Celtics guard Keith Bogans said.
Stevens has an assortment of other options at Brooks' position. The starter is lockdown defender Avery Bradley. Then there's Crawford, a gunner in the same vein as Brooks who is playing some point guard provisionally. Courtney Lee plays tough defense and can hit open shots, and savvy veteran Bogans played more than Brooks did last year in Brooklyn.
"We all fighting for time, we all fighting for minutes," Brooks said. "I'm just trying to show Coach exactly what I can do."
Nevertheless, for Brooks, this is a fresh start. He was thrown into the fire as a starter in the lockout-shortened 2011-2012 season, then stuck on the sideline for much of 2012-2013. As soon as the Nets added Joe Johnson, Brooks' chance to play major minutes went out the window. In limited time, his three-point percentage dipped drastically and his coaches didn't trust him on defense. He never found a rhythm playing 20 minutes one night, three minutes the next.
"It was like a rollercoaster for me," Brooks said.
"He didn't get to play as much as he wanted to, but he stuck with it," Bogans said. "I was one of the guys who was always in his ear, trying to help him along. I think he did a good job, a great job."
In Brooklyn, Bogans told him to keep his head up and be professional and his time would come. It's unclear if now is Brooks' time, but it's definitely an opportunity. The Celtics have a new coach, a new system and incentive to give their young players every chance to establish themselves. When Brooks first spoke with Stevens, they discussed the areas in which he needed to improve. Brooks, though, said he was well aware of his weaknesses and he and Stevens were already on the same page.
"I know exactly what [Stevens] wants from me," Brooks said. "He's hands-on, treats everybody the same. That's what I like about him the most. He treats everybody the same. Not really a yeller, he gets his points across in a different way. It's great."
The challenge now is to carve out a spot in the rotation and earn consistent minutes from night to night. Just as it's no surprise that Brooks can pile up points in short order, it's no secret he needs to be more efficient and make fewer defensive mistakes to stay on the floor. That's the same stuff people have said since he was a rookie.
"I want to prove that I became a better player," Brooks said. "Even last year, I became a better player. I didn't have the opportunity to show it, but I had a huge offseason going into my sophomore year. I was trying to build on that year. Things happened ... so it was kind of tough, but now that I'm going into Year 3 I'm just trying to make sure I don't have to go through that again."