In a big time win over arguably the hottest team in the league since the restart, the Celtics hammered the Toronto Raptors 122-100, thanks in large part to their excellent play on the defensive end of the floor. The Celtics set the tone defensively from the tip, with the starters putting together an excellent first stint that held Toronto to just 2 points in the first 6 minutes. The Raptors ended scoring a mere 37 points in the first half, and 57 in the first three, before the end of their bench managed to rattle off 43 in the last period to make the final score look a little more respectable.
Just as Jayson Tatum (deservedly) gets much of the praise for the Celtics’ offensive success, Marcus Smart is often heralded (also, deservedly) as the key to Boston’s defense. But while Smart, an All-Defense lock, is by far the best defender and the heart and soul of the unit, it’s Brown who truly unlocks the Celtics’ defense with his versatility.
With Al Horford, Aron Baynes, and Marcus Morris all playing significant minutes at the 4 and 5 last season, Brown was predominantly asked to guard other wings, but with all three of them gone and the Celtics playing smaller, Jaylen has often stepped up and guarded opposing 4’s. This graphic from BBall-Index’s Versatility app does a great job of showing that defensive shift.
The plot shows how often Brown defends guards and forwards, with the yellow dot being this year and the orange being last. As we can see, Brown’s matchups have completely shifted this year, with much more of a focus on guarding forwards than before.
On Friday, he was tasked with guarding Raptors All-Star Pascal Siakam, and Brown did a stellar job all night, holding Siakam to just 11 points on 5/15 shooting with 0 assists and 2 turnovers. The two most important stats of the night for me: 0 fast-break points for Pascal, and just 13 for the Raptors as a team who lead the league averaging 19.2 a night. Toronto, and Siakam, thrive offensively in transition, and by limiting them on the break, the Celtics were able to take advantage of the Raptors’ 17th ranked half-court offense, per Cleaning the Glass.
Even when Siakam managed to force a turnover, Brown, Theis, and the rest of the Celtics did a great job of hustling back in time to prevent a transition look and force a reset:
And in the half court, Brown made life just about as difficult as possible for Siakam – whose 11 points was only one higher than his lowest mark of the season. Throughout the game, he tried to use his height advantage in the post against Brown, but Jaylen’s strength and length on the contest bothered Pascal all night.
Siakam has good position here, but Brown manages to get his hands up just enough to bother the shot and force a miss:
Bar one instance in the third quarter where he got burned on an up and under, Brown did a great job of staying on his feet on Siakam’s pump fakes and sat on his patented spin move.
Brown and Kemba Walker do a great job of navigating the screen to prevent the switch, then as Siakam is approaching the free throw line with his left hand, Jaylen knows he wants to get back to the right with the spin, and is just waiting for it as he spins back right. Siakam gets the shot off thanks to his length, but Brown is able to get a good contest and forces the miss.
He put on a defensive clinic all night, and was right there on every shot – even ones that Siakam made:
All season, Brown has paired good defense with a much-improved offensive game and, in Orlando, he really seems to be hitting another level on both ends of floor. In addition to the defense, he’s been averaging 22.2 points in the five restart games while shooting a scorching 45.0% from deep on 8 attempts a game. He has quickly turned into one of the better two-way wings in the league, and will need to keep it up if the Celtics want to raise Banner no. 18.