Heading into Game 4 on Sunday night, the Boston Celtics were looking to bounce back. They dropped Game 3 to the Atlanta Hawks in ugly fashion, allowing the opposition to dominate the glass.
They improved their effort, rebounding, and defensive intensity in Game 4, but they also kept up their offensive prowess. Only this time around, it was Jaylen Brown who stepped up to the plate.
Mask-less Jaylen Brown.
“After the timeout, we were looking for Jaylen. We couldn’t find him because he didn’t have his mask on,” said Marcus Smart. “And then we saw him in the corner, and he gets the ball, and then obviously, he makes those plays where he’s driving with force. He throws it off the glass couple of times and makes some great plays. And we just knew at that moment it was a different JB, and he’s going to carry us and bring us home.”
Brown started the game shooting 1-for-7 from the field. It was looking like another off night for the Celtics star. But with 9:02 remaining in the second quarter, he took his mask off.
From then on, Brown shot 11-for-15, turning up his aggressiveness and making it a point to get to the rim.
“I just needed a different look,” Brown said. “I just felt like, to start the game, I didn’t like the looks that I got, so I just needed something to switch it up a little bit. And then, as soon as I took it off, things started to turn around a little bit.”
Jaylen Brown with the exclamation point ❗️ pic.twitter.com/KbsCTFImQI— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) April 24, 2023
Brown has been wearing the mask since February 8. While fighting for a rebound, Jayson Tatum inadvertently elbowed Brown in the face, leaving him with a facial fracture.
He didn’t return to action until February 23 after missing four games. Ever since then, he’s been wearing the mask, but on Sunday, he decided it was time for it to go.
As for what head coach Joe Mazzulla saw from him after the mask came off…
“I saw his face,” said Mazzulla.
Brown’s face was on full display, as was his leadership.
“After that, I saw his poise,” said Mazzulla. “I thought he did a great job making plays at the rim, operating in space, playing off two feet, and making the right play. To me, he showed tremendous poise, especially on the offensive end. He had the ball in his hands, making plays for himself and others.”
Leading up to Game 4, Brown had been having an off-kilter series. He was averaging 20.7 points and shooting 50.0% from the field, but his three-point percentage was just 28.6%. And after attempting 20.6 shots per game in the regular season, he was taking just 17.3 shots.
In Game 4, that all changed. He dropped 31 points on 22 shots and made it a point to constantly get to the rim. Tied with Tatum, he led the team in scoring.
“It doesn’t matter if I score 25 or I score two,” said Brown. “As long as I just help my team be in a position to win, that’s what I’m trying to focus on. But I definitely need to continue to be more aggressive because I feel like our team is different when I got the ball, and I’m being aggressive.”
Jaylen Brown's strong performance in the Game 4 win helps the @celtics to a 3-1 series lead!— NBA (@NBA) April 24, 2023
31 PTS | 12-22 FGM
Game 5: Tuesday, 7:30 PM ET, TNT pic.twitter.com/HRSW1dlXMK
With a different outlook (literally), Brown was able to refind a second gear and help lead Boston to a much-needed win.
But he wasn’t too keen on the mask talk.
”It’s been a minute since we’ve seen JB without his mask on the court playing,” said Smart, only to be interrupted by Brown, who was entering the room for his post-game press conference.
“Shut up,” said Brown jokingly.
Seeing Brown explode for his first 30-point performance of the postseason is a great sign for the games (and rounds) to come.
And he’s ready for the challenge.
“The playoffs are high intensity. Each game is different. It’s a fight–who wants it the most,” said Brown. “You got to come to play. It doesn’t matter how many points you had in the regular season. It doesn’t matter what your accolades are. Teams are going to come at you, and you got to come ready to play."