Great teams have great teammates.
While the Boston Celtics are in pursuit of greatness this year, the chemistry and cohesion of this group is multiplying through each hard-fought victory. Wednesday night’s comeback effort against the Brooklyn Nets served as a fortifying moment for this team’s camaraderie while also propelling the Celtics to a 2-0 series lead.
Part of being a great teammate is recognizing when those around you need to be lifted. There’s no doubt that Jayson Tatum had a rough night, in particular a rough start. While he did finish with a 19 point, 10 assist double-double, his shooting was cold early and he looked a little bit drained with his energy.
The rest of the Celtics found ways to chip in and take the baton from Tatum for the evening. It started with Grant Williams, pouring in 13 points on 3-3 shooting from deep while playing his typical stout defense on Kevin Durant. He and Al Horford were Boston’s leading scorers going into the break, and the Celtics were down 10. Brooklyn’s offense was hitting tough shots and getting contributions from their role guys, dropping 65 on the C’s league-best defense.
That’s when Jaylen Brown stepped up. Not in terms of on-court play (at least immediately) but back in the locker room. It was Brown’s positive words at the half that kept the Celtics engaged and dialed in as a group, ready to go coming out in the third quarter.
Grant Williams says Jaylen Brown kept telling the team at halftime tonight, "Stay the course."— Marc D'Amico (@Marc_DAmico) April 21, 2022
Boston drew blood right away, going on a 15-7 run in the opening three minutes of the frame to trim the lead in half and prove to the Nets that they weren’t going anywhere. It was Jaylen who gave the emotional jumpstart to the crowd and the team during that run, knifing in from behind on Durant for a steal and a breakaway layup:
The two teams traded buckets for much of the rest of the quarter, with the Celtics drawing even but never actually seizing the lead. An offensive rebound or two, leading to second-chance points for the Nets, served as momentary back-breakers, keeping the C’s at an arm’s length as soon as things got close.
The baton needed to be taken,as Grant was nearing the end of his output and the C’s, down five heading into the fourth, were in search of more offensive firepower. Tatum (3-13 FG through three quarters) and Brown (-11 on the evening to that point) simply weren’t getting the job done.
But Brown, guarded by Brooklyn wing Bruce Brown throughout the night, felt confident he could shake free from the stifling defense and carry the team on his shoulders. A little confidence would go a long way in getting Jaylen set off right, and he gained that shot in the arm at the end of the third by completing a dazzling series of dribble moves to shake free from his defender and lay it in:
Jaylen Brown is a bucket pic.twitter.com/Q7hqX0g9ep— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) April 21, 2022
With his newfound confidence, Jaylen saw the final quarter as his time to attack and take the creation burden on his shoulders.
Jaylen Brown: "Brooklyn is doing a good job keeping me from my spots. But in the fourth quarter, when everyone else is dwindling a little bit, that's when I'm going to attack."— Keith Smith (@KeithSmithNBA) April 21, 2022
Before taking the baton from Grant, reserve Payton Pritchard had to make an appearance. Pritchard nailed a big 3-pointer at the tail end of the third frame, and stayed on the floor thereafter. He scored Boston’s first points of the fourth on a mid-range pull-up, his second big jumper in his minutes, and one that forced a Brooklyn timeout.
Then, with the Celtics down 92-87, Jaylen came alive. He hit a massive 3-pointer to cut the deficit to two, then came down on the next possession and climbed the ladder for a physical lay-in that tied the game:
Pritchard’s role wouldn’t end there. He hit another 3-pointer — a tough step-back that sent the Garden faithful into a frenzy — to officially give the Celtics the lead. They never looked back.
With a raucous crowd behind them, the C’s extended their lead to 96-92 less than a minute later with a Brown layup. Tatum stuffed a Kevin Durant jumper shortly after to get the crowd to its loudest point of the evening for a brief moment. The Nets got the offensive rebound and scored, momentarily quieting the momentum on Boston’s side.
Then Jaylen hit his signature shot, a heat check pull-up from 3 to push the lead to five.
JB HEAT CHECK ♨️— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) April 21, 2022
Celtics take the lead pic.twitter.com/sjWZL3bNOF
Everyone stepped up in the final few minutes: a rejuvenated Tatum hit a few big shots in the final three minutes. A big Marcus Smart lefty layup (causing the meme of the season to adorn the internet) with just over a minute left pushed their lead to ten and put the game out of reach.
None of those sealing minutes wouldn’t be possible without the herculean efforts of Brown in the early part of the quarter to propel the C’s back in front.
This season has served as Jayson Tatum’s moment in the sun. He’s an elite defender who also happens to be one of the best scorers on the planet, and he’s deservedly in the MVP conversation. Marcus Smart finally got the credit he deserves, winning Defensive Player of the Year earlier this week.
Far too often we forget about just how good Jaylen is and fail to give him the credit he deserves for how much he does for this group. When they needed a teammate to come to the rescue and give them the emotional and physical push to victory, it was Jaylen who was there.
“It makes a world of difference having Jaylen Brown as opposed to not having him like last year,” Tatum said.
The C’s now head to Brooklyn with a 2-0 series lead. It’s not insurmountable by any means. But the momentum from a come-from-behind win, and the emotional scenes of the second-half in Boston where Jaylen was dragging a subdued group back to a win, provide confidence and chemistry moving forward that are impossible to measure.