In his most impressive two-way performance so far, Jaylen Brown stood head and shoulders above his peers on Thursday night. Marred by his abysmal defensive rotation in the final seconds of the game, you could quite easily forget the stellar showing Brown had provided until that point.
But to forget this performance would be a travesty. Brown was advertising his individual developments, making a statement of what’s to come. Here we have the same player who went into the season with question marks surrounding his left-hand dribble, pull-up shooting, finishing through contact, and navigating defensive rotations. The fourth-year wing has answered each question resoundingly and put his development on full display in the Celtics loss to the Raptors.
Finishing the game with 19 points, 12 rebounds, two assists, and four blocks, the Golden Bears product epitomized the term “two-way wing.” The stat line, as impressive as it was, doesn’t even properly do the 23-year-old justice.
To begin, Brown is operating in the paint, already showing his ability and versatility to be able to play inside and out. He recognizes the space developing courtesy of the battle between Marc Gasol and Daniel Theis. A quick curl allows Marcus Smart to feed Brown the ball above the break, two dribbles with his right hand, and the Celtics wing finds himself in trouble.
Gasol has dropped back to protect from the drive. OG Anunoby has cut off the left side of the court while Kyle Lowry is pinching in from the right. Brown recognizes the defense has him shut down. Immediately he pulls the ball back, utilizes a Theis screen, dribbles left, finds daylight in the mid-range, pulls up, and fires with confidence and poise.
Jaylen Brown is so patient now. That combined with his handle has opened up everything for him and slowed the game way down.— Keith Smith (@KeithSmithNBA) September 3, 2020
Last year, Jaylen Brown would have likely struggled to complete this play. There would have been an errant pass, ill-timed drive, or a turnover. Such is the magnitude of his individual development this year.
Here’s another example of the 6’7 wing’s stellar offensive play. Guarded by the Raptors, defensive juggernaut Fred VanVleet, Brown goes into his bag of dribble moves to generate space. Threatening the same pull-back which created the space for his opening bucket, Brown hesitates for a split-second following his change of pace when penetrating from the perimeter. That momentary hesitation freezes VanVleet for a nanosecond, enabling Brown to get his man on his hip as he continued to drive the lane. Serge Ibaka, who is “two-nineing” on the low help line in a drop scheme, rotates strong side to deter Brown from rising up.
Again, the Georgia native recognizes the defensive developments ahead of time and makes the right read. Selling the finger-roll as he enters his shooting motion, the defense sets to contest the shot. Instead, Brown hits Smart with a swing pass out on the weak side shoulder. Smart drives the open lane, forcing the defense to rotate strong-side and contest him in the paint. Brown has drifted out the weak-side low block, offering a dump-off outlet. Smart sees this and feeds Brown the ball once the defense has committed, resulting in an easy bucket at the rim.
Two clips, two smart plays. Both display an offensive IQ that has continued to flourish since signing a four-year, $115 million contract extension earlier this season. Yet, to focus solely on Brown’s offense is doing him a disservice. There were more strings to the bow.
Update: Jaylen Brown now has a DOUBLE-DOUBLE by halftime— Adam Taylor (@AdamTaylorNBA) September 3, 2020
3 Turnovers https://t.co/fWjsoRLhzB
Defensively, Brown had Pascal Siakam in shackles for the majority of the game.
Brown has cut off Siakam’s driving lane. Siakam lowers his shoulder to no avail. With nowhere to go, Siakam begins to back down Brown, going into his bag of post moves. Brown connects his chest into Siakam’s back, making it easy to feel the offensive player’s movements. As a result, the plethora of shoulder fakes has little to no effect on Brown’s defensive positioning.
There’s a brief moment where Siakam creates a slither of space, which Brown counters by making himself big to cut off any shooting opportunities. Siakam then reacts to Brown’s new defensive stance by going into a spin move and looking to get a hook-style floater to fall. Not happening. Brown waits for Siakam to rise, then explodes vertically to block the shot.
That defensive intensity also contributed to several rebounds throughout the game, as he ended the contest with a game-leading twelve boards. The Athletic’s Jay King noted Brown’s defense in this game, saying, “on switches, Brown has made things really tough on Lowry and VanVleet.”
Here’s an example of Brown switching onto Lowry, defending well, then ending the possession by collecting the defensive board. Perfect body positioning forces Lowry towards the baseline, while also cutting off any weak side passing opportunities. Brown’s athleticism and length ensure that Lowry can’t rely on his elite-level change of pace to create a driving opportunity.
Lowry shields himself from Brown with his off-hand when rising for the layup, but it’s not enough. Brown uses his length to block the shot off the backboard then collect the rebound and get out in transition almost instantly.
For all but 0.5 seconds of the game, Brown was the shining light for the Celtics. Then that shot happened.
Instantly, the narrative switched from Brown’s immense two-way performance to the missed rotation that cost Boston the game. Life can be fickle like that sometimes. Those moments are where the true nature of a person comes to light. Do they shoulder the blame? Or do they look to pass the book?
Jaylen Brown is a leader, both on and off the floor, in basketball and life. He has continually shown as much throughout the NBA restart and social justice movement. It should be no surprise that Brown took the blame in the ensuing press conference following the Raptors walk-off victory.
“Regardless of what (defensive scheme) we were in, we know we had to guard the three-point line. So that was just a ******* disgrace at the end of the game. No way we should have lost that game. I take responsibility for that.”
Irrespective of that final play, Brown was a focal point for the Celtics - he was involved in numerous aspects of the game while operating at a level nobody else on the floor could match. His post-game comments only further illustrate that the 23-year-old isn’t content will filling his stat line nor shirk the responsibility of a missed rotation.
Now, we wait to see how Brown and the rest of the Celtics bounce back in Game 4 tonight.