Jayson Tatum’s matchup with Kevin Durant and all the subplots that come along with such a stellar face-off has dominated the narrative surrounding the Boston Celtics' domination of the Brooklyn Nets so far. Don’t sleep on Jaylen Brown though!
First of all, let’s give Brown some credit for his performances over the last three games. While understated, they’ve been consistent and reliable, and his defense has been key to containing Brooklyn’s perimeter threats.
Last night with the Nets surging early in the fourth quarter in Game 3, the Georgia native took the game by the horns and snatched the momentum away from the Celtics’ opponent. That’s what stars do: they rise to the occasion when the pressure is mounting, especially in other teams' arenas.
As Blake Griffin will tell you, when Brown decides to flip the switch, there’s little anybody can do about it, especially if he wants to attack the rim. Throughout the season I’ve been incredibly vocal about placing Brown as an off-ball threat, asking him to operate as a “play finisher” rather than a play initiator. I like to feel vindicated in that take because over recent months, that’s the role the 25-year-old wing has primarily occupied, and he has been excelling in it.
When Brown receives the ball on the wing, it’s virtually impossible to limit him from getting downhill. Over the last few years, Brown has increased his muscle mass and can now absorb contact without being knocked off his line, which allows him to navigate crowded areas of the court.
In the above clip, we see Brown turn the corner on Goran Dragic while keeping him sealed on his off-hand. There’s no burst of pace or over-reliance on athletic ability. Instead, we see calm composure, the type that comes from knowing you’re going to get to the spot you want and create the best shot possible.
As it turns out, Brown was cool and collected with his shot attempt, selling the pump fake before stepping through the gap created by Dragic’s contest and finishing an easy look at the rim. At times, when the Cal product is operating at this level, his movements look almost effortless.
Things went from bad to worse for the Nets following that easy bucket at the rim. For all of their efforts to limit Tatum, Brooklyn had no choice but to get creative in how they tried to limit Brown’s impact, leading them to task Griffin with the unenviable assignment.
Throughout the series, Brooklyn has favored putting size on the perimeter, and while it has done little to contain the Celtics' offense, the logic behind the decision makes sense. But, when you’re asking an aging Griffin to defend Brown, you’re asking for trouble. Young, athletic wings have a hard enough time limiting the explosive Celtics’ win - so imagine how difficult the task was for Griffin.
In the above play, we see Brown decide to do his best James Harden impression with a between-the-legs step back. And on the next trip down the floor, Brown decides to take his defender to school, quickly bursting past Griffin as he barreled towards the rim for a finish through contact.
Watching Brown get hot is nothing new for Celtics fans. We’ve seen it happen countless times through the season. But to do so in the fourth quarter on the road, while they're amidst a run of their own, well, that’s how you snatch a potential victory from the clutches.
Credit to Brooklyn, though. They did adjust their defense to sink on Brown’s drives after he had smoked them a few times, but all that did was open up passing lanes for him to attack. Take the below play for example, as the Nets all pinch around the paint, they leave Tatum (of all people) open in the strong side corner. A quick jump pass, and boom, corner three to get the budding superstar an easy look after he had been struggling for the previous 5-or-so minutes.
And herein lies the problem, not just for the Nets, but for any team unlucky enough to come up against Boston in this type of form. Brown and Tatum have figured out how to play off of each other, and are capable of stepping to the forefront of the action when the other is struggling to convert their chances. In turn, the duo is now able to get their counterpart going by creating easy looks for each other, leaving the defense with no place to hide.