“Always be prepared.”
After a furious first half comeback that erased a 17-point deficit and a 15-point lead was whittled down to a single possession, Brad Stevens went to an unexpected source to finish the game. The regular closers were on the floor—Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, and Al Horford—but Stevens elected to not go with Marcus Smart, the usual fifth Beatle of the IT&D lineup. It wasn’t Kelly Olynyk either, who has proven to be a solid contributor in the playoffs and a mismatch in the first quarter. Gerald Green perhaps? No, it was a hot chocolate on the bench and not on the floor day for GG.
Instead, Stevens tapped Jaylen Brown.
Yes, the Jaylen Brown that saw stretches of playing time all year and made large strides towards the end of the season, but it’s also the same Jaylen Brown that has fallen out of the post-season rotation. It seemed like a gamble, but like so many adjustments in these playoffs, Stevens’ gut was right.
Before inserting Brown, Bojan Bogdanovich went on a 10-point scoring spree in less than a minute that cut a comfortable 12-point lead to just four. With four fouls, Marcus Smart wasn’t as aggressive on Bogdanovich’s jumpers and even tried to sell an offensive foul on a pin down screen that freed him up for an open fall away. Terry Rozier replaced Smart, but Bogdanovich has six inches on Terry and a hit a three over Rozier’s outstretched hands.
Enter Jaylen Brown. They’re both 6’7 and we’ve seen JB’s defensive versatility all year. After the game, Stevens remarked:
"I thought Jaylen did a good job on Bogdanovic in one of our games earlier this year when I was watching film," Stevens said. "So I wanted to give him a shot and, I've said this before, I trust all of our guys to be ready when called up.”
He’s a quick to close outs and can body up in the post, but let me take a little liberty and play team psychologist here. First, Stevens must have recognized the frustration that Smart had when he fouled Bogdanovich for a four-point play. Knowing Smart, he would have tried harder on subsequent possessions, but with the team in the penalty, his aggressiveness would be penalized.
So why go with Jaylen in such a critical moment? In some extended garbage time on Friday, Brown looked like a kid seeing the Wonka Factory for the first time. He tallied 6 points on seven shots in seven minutes and you could tell that he was raring to contribute. Balance that enthusiasm with a little trepidation from a short leash that ended Brown’s playing time in the first two games vs. the Bulls and Brown was perfect for the situation. Amped, but careful to play within himself.
Or maybe none of that is true. Maybe Stevens just thought the game needed a little more energy and the rookie was ready. Well, it worked. Bogdanovich wouldn’t score again and Brown contributed on the offensive end with two heady plays.
Jaylen Brown finds Crowder for a fourth-quarter trey! pic.twitter.com/HKYKu15F0a— Boston Celtics (@celtics) April 30, 2017
Brown’s clutch minutes speaks to Stevens’ preparedness and trust in his players and the team’s readiness to step up when their number is called. Here’s Jae Crowder on the rookie:
"Obviously, you have to be locked in to sit for two-and-a-half hours, then come in and contribute. He was locked in. That's playoff-type basketball. He was locked and ready to go, and that's kudos to him. When his number was called, he came in and played, and he did a great job."
Now, with Markieff Morris’ return in question and head coach Scotty Brooks forced to shuffle the lineup, the question for the Celtics is how they’ll adjust and whether Brown showed enough yesterday to warrant more PT. Brown may have been used as a Bogdanovich killer in Game 1, but we know he’s capable of more. Washington is bigger and more athletic than Chicago and Boston could use his size and speed on the perimeter against Otto Porter, Kelly Oubre, and Bogdanovich on the wings. Brown has the ability to switch on everything on the defensive end and it’s ability to excel in the random on offense (catch-and-shoot threes, attacking close outs, back door cuts, etc.) that could make him an x-factor moving forward. Confidence goes a long way in basketball (see Olynyk, Kelly and Rozier, Terry) and with Brown tasting the first playoff success in his young career, Stevens could choose to feed his fire.