Deep into a quiet game, Jaylen Brown made a thunderous announcement. He upfaked, drove and found daylight in the paint. He leaped from nearly the free throw line and tried to throw one down over Richaun Holmes.
The ball bounced off the rim, but the empty stadium began to stir. A few plays later, Brown came back at Holmes, who made sure Brown could not get the dunk down with a hard foul.
"Next time, they might get out of the way," Brown said.
It was clear that Jaylen, who attempted 17 free throws in his Celtics summer league debut, had taken control of the game after Ben Simmons went to the locker room with dual leg cramps. The Celtics ended up winning 102-94, but the key takeaway was that the third pick in the draft could hold his own with the prodigious top pick Simmons.
"He's a guy who wants to please," Celtics summer league coach Micah Shrewsberry said of Jaylen. "This was a hyped matchup. He was just trying to settle in. He made a huge shot."
That huge shot was Brown's first basket of the night, a deep three from the top of the key in the beginning of the fourth quarter. It was the only score he had outside of the paint, as his other field goal came on an alley-oop inbounds pass from James Young. He finished with 16 points on 2-for-7 shooting and 11 for 17 from the free line. He led the Celtics with 6 rebounds and a pair of blocks as well.
But while Brown missed most of his shots, he was an offensive force. He can explode through any gap in the defense's perimeter, using his long strides and high leap to get near the rim. After a few sloppy moves in the first quarter, Brown found his rhythm in the second half. He got a better feel for his drive angles and when to take off.
Much like Yabusele, it took a good 15 minutes of play time to get accustomed to the positioning of the Sixers' post defenders. Since NBA teams can't plant their bigs in the middle of the floor and shot blockers are much quicker, Brown will have an adjustment period to know where and how to get his shot off.
But his explosiveness and length will make that adjustment much easier.
"We need a guy who can play above the rim like that," Terry Rozier said. "He was drawing oohs and ahhs. He impressed me too."
While he flashed his potential to be a ferocious finisher at the rim, Brown recognizes he is a major work in progress.
"The next one will be better," he said. "I have higher expectations for myself. Today was a good first game. We got the win. I think we played the game the right way. I think we got some stuff to clean up, but next game will be much better."
The most interesting adjustment for Brown will be getting used to playing with room on offense. After playing in a cramped system at Cal, Brown is on a well-spaced transition oriented team that will give him much greater freedom of movement.
"There was so much space on the floor, I didn’t know what to do," he said.
He eventually flourished on offense, especially when Ben Simmons went down. His biggest driver was the frustration from his missed shots earlier in the game. Rather than worry about embarrassing himself in his debut, he attacked even harder.
"I could've got a layup, but I was a little frustrated earlier," Brown said about trying to posterize Holmes. "So I decided to just take it out."
Brown's improvement will come from repetition. His missed layups were as much an issue of difficult shot selection as they were rawness. The summer league serves as his rehearsal for the real thing in the fall.
"[I'm] just trying to get to the basket, draw some fouls, make the open reads," Brown said. "I'm just getting used to getting up and down and playing with professionals. So [I'm] just getting my feet wet and next game will be better."
On a crushing day for the Celtics organization with Kevin Durant picking the Golden State Warriors, Brown's exciting performance relieves the pain. It might even cause the kind of excitement for this team that hours ago seemed unfathomable. Just wait for Brown to get back out there.
17 free throw attempts for Jaylen Brown in his debut and there is a puddle of drool on Brad Stevens’ table right now. #Celtics— Jared Weiss (@CLNS_JaredWeiss) July 5, 2016