On the heels of a lackluster Eastern Conference Finals, and the subsequent signing of a historic supermax extension, Jaylen Brown has become one of the most scrutinized stars in the NBA. Last night, he did not have his best showing — but it also wasn’t the disaster that some media and fans have made it out to be.
In a 108-104 win against the Knicks, Brown finished with 11 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists. He missed all four of his three-point attempts, and ended the night 4-of-11 from the field.
To make matters worse, Jaylen Brown had a brutal 35 second stretch late in the fourth quarter — there’s no denying it. With 4:45 left in a tied ball game, he pushed the ball and looked for Jrue Holiday down low, a pass that was easily intercepted by Jalen Brunson and led to a Julius Randle transition three. After that made basket, Brown inbounded the ball to Jayson Tatum, and Immanuel Quickley snuck in from behind and picked that one off, too.
To cap off the sequence, Brown fouled Quentin Grimes on a corner three. While Grimes couldn’t convert on the 4-point play, the Knicks pulled ahead 99-93 with just over 4 minutes to go. It seemed the Celtics were in store for another fourth quarter collapse, but they responded and executed in the clutch, holding the Knicks to just five points the rest of the way and ultimately coming out on top.
Brown’s performance last night has largely been scrutinized by this rough series of decisions. When you’re the owner of the league’s richest-ever contract, every bad pass, lost ball, or defensive mistake becomes a national news story.
However, this microcosm of poor decision making was not representative of the entire game played. Besides that sequence, he didn’t have a single turnover in 38 minutes of action. In contrast, Jayson Tatum turned the ball over 4 times, and Al Horford 3 times. (Brown was also not solely responsible for his second turnover — Tatum was pretty lackadaisical in coming to the ball on that play).
Most importantly, the Cs won the ball game. Jaylen Brown possessed the second highest +/- on the team, finishing a +8 on the night, second to only Kristaps Porzingis (+13) who had an excellent first showing. Brown also led the team with five assists.
With a few exceptions, Brown didn’t force things offensively, attempting nearly half as many field goals (11) as he averaged last season (20.6). For those who were worried about his ability to defer to Porzingis and others on the roster, that willingness to sacrifice his own scoring should be a welcome sign.
“It’s one game. We know how special he is,” Tatum said when asked about his co-star’s performance. “Everyone is going to have not great shooting nights, but he still impacted the game in other ways. He got some key rebounds and loose balls at the end that gave us some more possessions.”
Defensively, Brown played a key role in limiting both of the Knicks stars. Julius Randle finished the game with just 14 points on 5-22 shooting, while Jalen Brunson finished with 15 on 6-21 shooting. Brown had a 105.1 defensive rating, good for fourth-best on the team, and guarded Brunson and Barrett for a combined 38 possessions. Collectively, the pair scored just 6 points with Brown as their primary defender.
“I’m not going to shoot the ball great some nights, KP’s not — it’s all about how you impact the game in other ways,” Tatum said. “JB is going to be fine, he’ll probably have a great game on Friday.”
Tatum is right. JB is going to be fine. After all, we’re criticizing a guy who averaged an efficient 26.6 points per game last year. We’re talking about a guy who earned Second Team All-NBA. Brown shot 56.8% in the preseason (in contrast, Tatum shot 40%). Two years ago, Brown went off for 46 points on Opening Night against the Knicks.
In an 82-game season, Jaylen Brown is going to have plenty more lackluster performances. But if every mistake he makes becomes a debate about the merits of his $303 million contract extension, we’re in for a long and tiring year.