Unfortunately, when all was said and done, the Celtics fell short to the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday. Jayson Tatum was the bright spot again, matching his career-high scoring 41 points. It was another unreal performance from him on a national stage that even had LeBron James posting an Instagram picture praising him after the game.
Most of the talk will deservedly be about Tatum, however one story line should not go unnoticed: Jaylen Brown matching up with two Lakers All-Stars, Anthony Davis and LeBron James.
In the end, this whole defensive performance came down to nearly the final moment. It was Jaylen Brown vs. LeBron James in isolation with the Lakers down one. Everyone knows what happened from there. If this moment had gone the other way, the narrative may have been different. It is a shame LeBron drilled the go-ahead bucket even with solid, physical defense by Brown.
Either way, that one possession did not spoil the whole night for Brown. He consistently used his speed and strength to switch styles guarding Davis and James throughout the night. The quick footwork kept LeBron James in check with a full head of steam at times. Then, with Davis, he used his strength and post-defense skills to limit him in key parts of the night. The final box score is not indicative of how Jaylen Brown defended these players because under his watch they were contained most of the night.
This first clip is the ideal way to play defense against one of the icons of the NBA. LeBron goes to his patented back down move isolating his defender until he his under the rim to use his strength for a bucket. Normally, teams have to have someone help over. Earlier in the game, Gordon Hayward found himself in a similar position and no one helped over so it was an easy bucket for James. Here, Jaylen Brown keeps James in front, bodying him up and not overplaying on either side of him. He stands strong and does not let James power through for a layup creating a block, miss, and rebound on the tip.
Then, there were the match ups with Anthony Davis. It was the JaVale McGee-Anthony Davis lineups which had the Celtics severely undersized. Davis should be the one to dominate a team like the Celtics. They play small most of the game when they can and do not have much bruising size and depth in the middle to slow down a skilled offensive weapon like AD. This is the reason the Celtics relied on the versatile defense from Jaylen Brown. He could use that strength to make Davis uncomfortable down low that impacted his shots around the rim. Let Davis take as many shots as he wants from outside, but do not let him dominate the boards. Unfortunately, this was difficult for the Celtics because Davis got hot from the outside in the second half. In addition, even after great post defense, there are sometimes when you just can’t keep a great player away.
It was actually solid defense by Jaylen Brown in this first clip. He stayed in front and pushed him as best he could off the block, however, after that much effort stopping the shot, he had to rely on his teammates to back him up on the rebound. The second clip is more indicative of the pick-and-roll defense Brown played most of the night. He got his hand in there affecting Davis’ gather on the roll resulting in a strange shot.
On either of these stars for the Lakers, Jaylen Brown was responsible for picking up whomever came his way on switches. He was the pick-and-roll defender, so the defense would not result in a big guy guarding either James or Davis. When that was the case, everyone saw it was a not a positive outcome for the Celtics. Brown picked up the slack and played solid one-on-one defense when he could. Sometimes great offense beat great defense, but it was still a great showing from a young player having a huge task defending these two.
The defensive ability of Jaylen Brown sometimes gets overlooked. He normally picks up the opposing team’s best scorer and limits their output without much recognition. Offense will always win the story lines. It was the same narrative in the Lakers game, however, the versatility shown each game from Brown is such a promising sight for a young player. He understands his role on defense and steps up to this task each game for the Celtics.