The Boston Celtics’ 2020-21 season has been disappointing for numerous reasons. Above all, a team coming off its third Eastern Conference Finals appearance in four years sits at an even .500 more than halfway through the season while several conference contemporaries separate from the rest of the pack.
Secondary to those failed expectations has been the cloud said shortcomings have hung over Jaylen Brown’s incredible breakout season.
Having been named to his first All-Star Game, Brown’s efforts haven’t gone completely unnoticed. But Boston’s struggles have taken precedence among daily talking points, which is a shame considering how remarkable Brown’s emergence has been.
Brown was no consensus top pick when the Celtics took third in the 2016 NBA Draft. He wasn’t exactly handed the reigns on a team boasting All-Stars Isaiah Thomas and Al Horford like many lottery picks often are afforded. He has since developed from a 3-and-D complementary piece to a tertiary scoring option to a legitimate co-star mere fractions of a point away from leading the team in scoring.
The career-highs in points (24.6), assists (3.9) and field-goal percentage (48.7) are quality indicators of Brown’s improved play. His season is littered with performances that have reaffirmed his newfound stardom time and time again.
There were the 42 points he dropped on the Memphis Grizzlies in less than 29 minutes of action. He dished out a career-high 10 dimes in a win over the Toronto Raptors and had 27 points, 13 rebounds, and five assists against the Washington Wizards.
Whether it was volume scoring, improved playmaking, or a nice all-around touch, each game showcased a new layer of Brown’s talent. The Celtics’ recent 112-96 win over the Orlando Magic highlighted another, this time coming from beyond the arc.
Following the win, Brad Stevens noted the Magic’s tendency to protect the rim at the expense of the 3-point line — they’re 11th in opponent’s restricted area FGA per game while surrendering the sixth-most 3-point attempts per game.
“Historically, Steven Clifford’s teams and Orlando are some of the better at pulling in and protecting the paint, which means you have to kick it out,” Stevens said. “So we knew that with that, when they went under both ball screens and off-the-ball screens, you have to make shots to beat Orlando. So you have to have a mentality that when you’re open you’re gonna let it go.”
Brown seemed to take that gameplan to heart in his 32 and a half minutes, making 10 of his 18 3-point attempts on his way to a game-high 34 points.
He had never previously attempted more than 12 triples in a single game, which came less than two weeks ago in Boston’s first game after the All-Star break in Brooklyn. His previous career-high for 3-point makes was seven, which he first accomplished in his sophomore season back in 2017-18 and matched in that 42-point effort against Memphis in December.
It didn’t matter whether it was darting off pindowns, dribbling into a pull-up off a screen-and-roll, or letting his teammates do most of the grunt work while he spotted up along the 3-point line. Brown gave Orlando the full arsenal en route to the big night, his seventh game this season with at least 30 points. He had just eight such games through his first four years.
Though impressive in their own right, Brown’s 10 3-pointers fell one short of the franchise record set by none other than Marcus Smart last season. Through a smile that hasn’t always been present amid a 1-4 record following the All-Star break before this victory, Brown wasn’t subtle about how he would’ve gone about things had he known history and, more importantly, bragging rights were on the line.
“No, he didn’t. If he would’ve told me that I would’ve shot 2-3 more,” he said when asked if Smart let him know of his shortcoming. “I had lost count at a certain point. I wish somebody did tell me that. I would’ve fired up at least 5-6 more to make sure I beat Marcus.”
Just add it to the list of glass ceilings that still need to be accounted for.