Blakely: Brown rises to the occasion vs. LeBron, Cavs

Blakely: Brown rises to the occasion vs. LeBron, Cavs

CLEVELAND – Shortly after the final horn had sounded and the Boston Celtics’ 128-122 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers was secured, LeBron James and Jaylen Brown had a brief conversation after the game with James doing most of the talking. 

“He just said he would see me down the road, good job. . . and he said some other things that I won’t mention,” said Brown with a smile. 

Brown scoring a career-high 19 points in his first NBA start was impressive. 

Doing so in a nationally televised game, against the defending NBA champions who are led by James … that’s pretty cool, too. 

Cavaliers 128, Celtics 122

But that moment after the game with James, more than anything else that went down on Thursday night, speaks to how the 20-year-old rookie has arrived. 

Because like most veteran players, you don’t come into the league and get on James’ radar unless your potential shines in a way that’s undeniable. 

That was indeed the case on Thursday with Brown making his first NBA start in place of Jae Crowder who is out for at least a couple weeks with an ankle injury. 

It was the kind of scenario that nobody would have been surprised to see the rookie buckle under the pressure. 

But instead of being overwhelmed by the moment, he made the night into one that may very well be remembered as him coming of age in the NBA. 

Prior to the game, head coach Brad Stevens said the decision to start Brown over Marcus Smart was more about having Smart playing more with the second unit which has struggled in the early going of this season, than it was about getting Brown on the floor with the first unit. 

But when all was said and done, the night belonged to Brown. 

“He played really hard,” Stevens said of Brown. “Obviously he made shots and did a lot of good things. There’s a … you never expect a guy to make 50 percent of his three's every day. At the end of the day, if he brings that same tenacity and focus defensively, he can just keep getting better. Today was a good step in the right direction.”

And it comes at a time when the Celtics are a battered bunch, having played Thursday’s game without Crowder as well as Al Horford (concussion). 

Boston has a slew of established veterans who did a lot of good things on Thursday, like Isaiah Thomas and Avery Bradley scoring 30 and 26 points, respectively. 

But for this franchise to continue growing into a legit Eastern Conference power, they are going to need a wild card of sorts to emerge, a player whose impact exceeds expectations. 

Brown could very well be that player. 

He has carried himself with the confidence of a proven veteran since he was drafted by Boston with the third overall pick in last June’s NBA draft, a trait that has endeared him to most of his teammates who acknowledge that he is different but in a good way. 

And the way he handled himself against James only strengthens the trust he has established already with his more seasoned, battle-tested brethren. 

“He didn’t show no backdown,” Thomas said. “I’m proud of him.”

But as Stevens reminds us, it’s not like Brown was a borderline NBA prospect. 

“(20) years old, third pick in the NBA draft, pretty good basketball player right?” Stevens said. “He’s probably grown up thinking that.”

More than the numbers and Brown’s approach to dealing with James, Stevens was impressed with his approach in terms of executing the game plan. 

“What was better was how detailed he was on some things, especially defensively,” Stevens said. 

It all added up to an impressive first of what should be many starts, and ended with Brown getting to spend some time with James who is a player Brown readily admits he has admired for some time. 

“I respect LeBron not just on the floor but off,” Brown said. “What he does off the floor, donates to inner-city kids, just how he handles himself. He’s never been in trouble with the law or anything like that. He’s just a great role model for somebody like me. I watched him growing up, and it’s kind of shaped me to who I am.”

But don’t get it twisted. 

Brown is far from star-struck when it comes to James, evident by him going at him on many possessions with one resulting in a dunk. 

“It’s different when you get in between those lines,” Brown said. “All that (respect) goes out the window. At the end of the day I’m a competitor. I think I’m more competitive than a lot of people in this league. I was focused; I wasn’t nervous, star-struck or anything. I came out and had a job to do and I tried to do it to the best of my ability.”

NBC Sports Boston Breakfast Pod: Reserve-heavy Celtics keep at it, top Trail Blazers

NBC Sports Boston Photo

NBC Sports Boston Breakfast Pod: Reserve-heavy Celtics keep at it, top Trail Blazers

1:13 - The Celtics came away with a 105-100 win in Portland on Friday night. Find out why Chris Mannix is calling this the best Celtics win of the season.

6:05 - Mannix discusses details about Kyrie Irving’s ‘minimally invasive’ procedure on his knee and what his level of concern is with A. Sherrod Blakely and Gary Tanguay.

10:03 - Michael Holley and Tom Curran discuss what NFL players, including Devin McCourty, are doing beyond the gridiron by being active in criminal justice reform discussions held at Harvard this week.



Morris getting it done for Celtics on both ends of the floor

Morris getting it done for Celtics on both ends of the floor

When you think about Marcus Morris these days, big-time scoring immediately comes to mind. 

But in Boston’s 105-100 comeback win over Portland, Morris’ contributions went beyond the game-high 30 points he dropped on the Blazers.

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“Coach (Brad Stevens) is doing a great job of getting me the ball in my spots and my teammates are finding me,” Morris told reporters after the win. “And I’m just coming through.”

He’s providing strong play and a tremendous presence at both ends of the floor which has been critical to the team navigating some choppy waters with a number of regular rotation players – namely Kyrie Irving – out with injuries.

“One thing is, he’s healthy,” said Boston’s Al Horford, referring to the sore knee that limited Morris earlier this season and at times forced him to miss games. “And the other is, he’s just more confident, he’s playing very assertive. He’s playing great right now, in a really good rhythm.”

Said Stevens: “That’s been him (Morris). As he’s continued to feel better; I think physically he’s felt as good as he’s felt. He’s comfortable in our system and we need him to score. If you’re a basketball player and your job is to score, that’s a pretty good job.”

And it’s one that even with all the injuries Boston has played through, few envisioned him being such an integral part of the offense. 

Morris’ calling card prior to arriving in Boston was his defense. 

But Morris has made it known that his focus on the floor is to be as complete a player as possible.

“I’m not trying to just limit myself to just being that scorer,” Morris said. “Also, on the defensive end I think I’m bringing it; my defense has gotten a lot better, especially my on-the-ball defense. I’m trying to be that all-around player and not just an offensive player … but I can score.”