Better late than never! After a brief delay, we are back once again with the CelticsBlog Player of the Week. Today, we’re discussing the week of March 28, which consisted of four games: losses to Toronto and Miami on Monday and Wednesday, and wins over Indiana and Washington on Friday and Sunday.
I’ll go ahead and skip our usual disclaimer this time around and get right down to business, because this week, the award is heading back to one of the Jays.
CelticsBlog Player of the Week #9: Jaylen Brown
3 GP, 33 MPG, 30.7 PPG, 57.9% FG, 57.9% 3PT, 6.7 RPG, 6 APG, 1.3 SPG, +31
The Celtics played four games this week, but we’re focused on just three. We’ll be passing over the first game of last week’s slate, the team’s short-handed loss to Toronto. It was certainly an impressive effort for a Celtics squad short four of its starters, taking the fifth-seeded Raptors to one overtime period and coming a pair of tough missed threes short of forcing a second. But we’re approaching the end of the regular season, which means the playoffs are nearly upon us, and it feels more productive to talk about the games the Celtics played at full strength.
Across the remaining three games of the week, the easy standout was Brown, who has been absolute money since a brief slump at the beginning of March. His 32-point performances against Indiana and Washington marked his fourth and fifth games cracking that threshold in his past eight outings.
vs. Miami: 28 PTS (9-of-22 FG, 5-of-9 3PT), 10 REB, 6 AST
Notable among Brown’s upswing in recent weeks is his improvement as a three-point shooter. After a nine-game stretch from late February through mid-March that saw him shoot just 25% from behind the arc (an ankle sprain in the middle doubtless contributed), his past eight games have seen him more than double that figure to a blistering 54%.
Of those eight games, Miami was his most prolific, tying for his third-most threes in a game this season with five. It’s a feat he’s matched six other times this season, and if you set aside his futile heave as time expired, only one of those games featured a better percentage. His shot looked sharp, connecting on a few catch-and-shoot looks as well as a pair of crisp step-back threes in isolation.
It’s interesting, then, that this was Brown’s worst overall scoring performance of his recent surge. Miami just made things remarkably difficult for Brown and the Boston offense inside the arc last Wednesday night. He shot just 4-of-13 from two-point range and had his shot blocked five times, uncharacteristically struggling at the rim against Defensive Player of the Year candidate Bam Adebayo and the tough Heat defensive unit.
The malaise was not unique to Brown, though. Nearly the entire roster struggled to string together buckets against Miami. Tatum was shut out from behind the three-point arc for the first time since late January, and the team as a whole shot just 41% from the field against Miami’s defense. Factoring in the loss of Robert Williams III and the reliable, easy scoring threat he creates as a lob threat, and this was kind of game where the Celtics just needed Brown to force the issue as a scorer.
It was a tough loss and not Brown’s most sterling performance of the year, but the Celtics remained competitive down to the wire in a game that — at the risk of sounding cliché — had the physicality and competitive edge of a playoff game. With some more customary results from Brown inside the arc (seriously — five blocks! Two by Max Strus!) this is a game that could have landed in the win column for the Celtics, even as they didn’t have their best stuff.
vs. Indiana: 32 PTS (12-of-18 FG, 2-of-5 3PT), 3 REB, 7 AST, 2 STL
It was particularly nice to see Brown pile up some assists this past week. Midway through March, he went through a rather amusing mini-stretch of games as the platonic ideal of a bucket-getter, dishing out 85 points against just one lonely dime in three outings on the Celtics’ west coast road trip.
While the Celtics certainly weren’t hurting due to Brown’s score-only mentality at the time — Brown isn’t a primary facilitator, and the Celtics don’t really ask him to be — more ball movement is rarely a bad thing. The Celtics dished out 27, 29 and 39(!!) assists as a team in these three respective games, and Brown was an active and willing passer in each of them. His seven assists against Indiana added up to the first time he’s lead the Celtics in the category since the end of February.
Brown isn’t a guy who is going to pass people open, but the threat of his scoring will create openings for his teammates — if he can get the ball there. Against Indiana, he did a particularly nice job of getting downhill and using the threat of his drive to create open looks for his bigs.
Horford was a particularly frequent target for Brown, accounting for three of his seven dimes. The first of the three, Horford’s first bucket of the night, illustrates just how simple it can be. Indiana’s Tyrell Terry overhelps on Brown’s drive with Horford one pass away, and Brown makes the easy dump-off for a wide open three-pointer.
vs. Washington: 32 PTS (12-of-17 FG, 4-of-5 3PT), 7 REB, 5 AST, 2 STL
Boston’s defense has seemed just a bit off since losing Williams to a meniscus tear, likely in no small part due to the challenges of adapting their schemes to his absence on the fly. The Pacers piled on a whopping 123 points on 52/47/95 shooting on Friday evening, while the Wizards threatened to follow suit after a 37-point second quarter on Sunday afternoon.
Neither outburst ended up mattering, though, because the Celtics’ offense simply scored more. After that uncharacteristically sluggish finish against the Heat, they were absolutely unconscious offensively for the remainder of the week, posting 54/36/93 splits against Indiana and 61/52/70 against the Wizards.
Relating this back to Brown: it was clear from the jump against Washington that he was the team’s energizing force on the afternoon. In one of his trademark scoring explosions, Brown scored the Celtics’ first 11 points, including three consecutive three-pointers, setting the pace for an offense that eclipsed 140 points for the game. That 37-point second quarter from Washington? It only cut the lead to 11 points at the halftime break.
These two games were some seriously impressive stuff from Brown, and a great response to the team’s shooting malaise against Miami, to say the least.
Brown is closing out the season playing some of the best ball we’ve seen from him all year, peaking at the exact right time as the Celtics have risen through the ranks of the Eastern Conference and now look ahead to homecourt advantage for at least one round of the playoffs, if not more. He’ll be the first one to tell you he’s excited to contribute this postseason after having been sidelined last year due to injury, and if he continues to produce like this, the Celtics’ ceiling can only raise higher.
We have an honorable mention for our featured highlight this week, as I just can’t help but talk about Brown’s final bucket from the Wizards game. This one is comedy to me. We start with Brown coughing the ball up on a deflection by Daniel Gafford, who does his best to sell the contact from Brown’s left arm but doesn’t get the whistle. Deni Advija can’t corral the loose ball, and saves it inbounds directly back into Brown’s arms.
What does he do? The exact same thing, again, this time culminating in a circus layup off the veeeery top of the backboard and a foul from Anthony Gill for the three-point play. Just like they drew it up!
But the actual highlight here has to be this alley-oop from late in the first quarter against Indiana. I mean, come on. The three-quarter court pass from Smart? The mid-air catch, double-clutch and finish from Brown? Terrific stuff.
And that will be all she wrote for this, the penultimate CelticsBlog Player of the Week for the regular season. The final week’s slate of games begins the evening of this publishing, as the Celtics kick off the most important back-to-back of their season, facing the Chicago Bulls in Chicago in a possible playoff preview before deciding their own fate with the second seed in the Eastern Conference in Milwaukee tomorrow night against the Bucks. Rounding it all off will be a road game against the Memphis Grizzlies that, if playoff seeding is decided, could lead to some Game 82 bench player magic.
Who will be the key to the Celtics’ final three regular season games? As always, let us know your thoughts down below in the comments.