Offensively, Jaylen Brown’s first quarter in Wednesday’s Game 5 was about as frustrating as possible. He missed three of his four shots and tallied three turnovers, all of which were avoidable, hair-pulling faux pas.
Ball control in traffic is not a weapon of his, especially against a handsy, aggressive defense like the Miami Heat’s. Yet on repeated occasions, he drove his way into crowds and saw the possession flip sides, fumbling into a trio of giveaways.
After one quarter, with the Boston Celtics trailing 19-17, a final stat line of 25 points on 64.3% true shooting in a 93-80 victory did not seem likely. The beauty of Brown’s scoring approach, though, often rests in his persistence. He is unrelenting, never afraid to commit mistakes, learn from them and adjust.
Timidness and hesitancy do not have homes in the postseason. Brown doesn’t have either of those things. Only twice has he hoisted fewer than 16 shots, and he’s scored 22 points or more 12 times in this year’s playoffs.
He will not go gentle into that great night, regardless of that night’s antonym for gentle. His dogged nature has been vital to the Celtics sitting one win away from their first NBA Finals trip since 2010 after grabbing a 3-2 series lead on Wednesday.
In 16 playoff games, the 25-year-old wing is starring, averaging 23.1 points, 6.9 rebounds and 1.3 steals on 59.2% true shooting (.484/.396/.735 split). Not every performance has mirrored these numbers (Game 1s seem to be his kryptonite). His off-ball defense fluctuates and the unyielding mindset guides him toward trouble at times. But he carries a distinctly integral dynamic for this title-caliber club and is constructing a stellar playoff run.
Through each of Boston’s three playoff series, its opponent has gravitated toward a switch-heavy defense. Two of them, the Brooklyn Nets and Miami, employ that as their base coverage against screens. The Milwaukee Bucks are more selective in their switching, but still embrace it for spurts.
At every turn, Brown is exposing that tactic. Across each matchup, the defenders unqualified to contain him and his dynamic scoring profile are struggling. In Round 1, Seth Curry, Kyrie Irving, Goran Dragic and Patty Mills were all buried. In Round 2, Grayson Allen, George Hill and Pat Connaughton labored through a firsthand account of his exploits; even Jrue Holiday had issues, too. This round, Gabe Vincent, Max Strus and Tyler Herro are the primary targets.
His blend of balance, explosion and muscle form riddles that guards and wings fail to answer. As Jayson Tatum commands the primary focus after finishing eighth in the regular season in offensive DRIP (plus-4.1), none of Boston’s opponents to this point have countered with a second option equipped to stymie Brown.
He wields a style of immediacy and physicality that complements Tatum’s slow-cooking, slippery, elegant game. Brown is the suckerpunch that Boston’s offense cannot emulate elsewhere. Beating up switches and the mismatches they invite are on the Celtics’ syllabus for playoff success. Brown is a leading proponent of that feat.
While Tatum is assuredly a superstar and very good offensive initiator, he’s not yet ascended to the infallible realm. Staccato possessions remain. The Celtics rightfully hand him the reins, but Brown supplements a reinforcement with his ability to periodically conjure up something from nothing.
He harbors a bail-out gene independent of whether Tatum is alongside him. According to NBA.com, on attempts within the final seven seconds of the shot clock, he owns an effective field goal percentage of 57.8 (67 points, 28-of-58 shooting). Possessions stall and grow lifeless before Brown slaps down a get of jail free card.
These dudes and sequences are crucial for playoff prosperity.
Dating back to his second season, Brown’s established himself as a quality long-range marksman. Those chops have swelled in these playoffs, where he’s drilling 39.6% of his 106 triples, while blending catch-and-shoot efficiency with pull-up spunk. At 38.0% on 71 spot-ups, he’s a reliable off-ball cog; at 41.2% on 34 pull-up 3s, he’s mixing in off-the-dribble flair.
He’s not cycling through floppy action after floppy action akin to JJ Redick, but he’s shown some comfort firing in motion. He’ll also score from a standstill to deliver ancillary creation next to Tatum.
In the first round, he canned 21.1% of his outside jumpers, though compensated by making 59.3% of his 2s (32 for 54). Since then, he’s bombing away at a 43.7% clip on 7.3 attempts per night. Versatility has been present throughout.
A component of Brown’s irreplaceable suckerpunch signature is his slashing zeal and finishing guile. His strength, contortion and body control are exceptional for a 6-foot-6 wing. There’s a suddenness to him that overwhelms opponents.
Among 34 players with at least 50 drives this postseason, Brown’s 57.5% shooting ranks fourth, and his total drives (195) are seventh, per NBA.com. Contrast that to Tatum, who’s converted just 41.7% of his shots on 221 drives. The value of Brown’s offensive variation further steps into the light.
Although Tatum is a better offensive (and overall) player, Brown’s slashing punch is unparalleled. He is, at times, the life raft of Boston’s dribble penetration. His pop from Point A to Point B can appear ravishingly dynamite.
Brown is not a primary initiator. His handle and decision-making lag too much for that mantle. But he’s a groovy secondary scorer, thriving in transition, off the ball, around different types of screens and via second-side actions. In the playoffs, he’s diced up switches with his frame, footwork and drives, and drop coverage with high-arcing jumpers.
On both ends, his mistakes may be maddening. The aesthetics don’t portray him well. At their conclusion, though, they are still a singular play bookended, preceded or followed by vastly more wonderful results.
Secondary creators who alleviate pressure from lead ball handlers are essential for effective playoff offenses. Many of the downfalls for this year’s teams can be traced, in some magnitude, to the absence of that archetype. Brown is an efficient 23-point bucket getter who slots aptly on the wing with Tatum.
He’s a necessity, not a luxury, and a malleable jackknife of a scorer. His errors will not breed doubt but rather recalibration and discern a way to keep pushing. Reservations are not an accomplice of deep playoff tenures or championships.
Brown isn’t unerring, but he does not hold reservations. That demeanor is helping him flourish in the postseason and helps explain his laudatory scoring prowess, one on prominent display this spring.
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