We are used to Jaylen Brown’s play making a powerful statement.
But what we saw in Game 4?
That’s not exactly what anyone south of the Canadian Border had in mind.
On a night when the Boston Celtics as a collective struggled in so many facets of play, the impact of Brown on the game’s outcome stood out for all the wrong reasons as Boston’s second-round series is now even at two games apiece following the Raptors 100-93 win over Boston on a night when Brown was at his absolute worst at both ends of the court.
How bad was it?
In addition to Pascal Siakam (23 points, 11 rebounds) having his way most of the game when Brown defended him, a first in this series, Brown countered with just 14 points on 4-for-18 shooting which included him missing nine of his 11 three-point shot attempts.
Having appeared in 333 NBA games (279 regular season plus another 54 in the playoffs) coming into Saturday’s Game 4 tilt, Brown had never taken 10 or more 3’s and shot so poorly from 3-point range.
The loss and Brown’s impact were both sobering realities to fans of the Celtics who will undoubtedly look back at his late-game gaffe in Game 3 as the turning point in this series if it doesn’t end with Boston moving on to the next round.
But there was another revelation to emerge from Boston’s Game 4 loss.
In order for Boston to get back to the Eastern Conference finals for the third time in the last four years, no one - not Jayson Tatum, not Kemba Walker, not Marcus Smart - is more important to Boston getting past Toronto than Brown.
Let’s start with his defense.
Brown went into Game 4 as the primary defender on Siakam who for the most part had been kept in check in this series.
That was not the case on Saturday as early foul trouble significantly limited Brown’s impact defensively.
“It’s tough, playing with foul trouble,” Brown said. “It takes away some of your aggressiveness and things like that. I put myself in some tough positions. A lot of that is on me.”
As Brown’s shot-making morphed into shot-chucking, Siakam found a rhythm with Brown defending him that we had not seen in this postseason or regular season for that matter.
Following the Game 4 loss, I asked Brown about his struggles shooting in Game 4, a game in which many of the shots he missed were shots that he had been making consistently throughout the playoffs.
“I just missed some open shots. I’m a good shooter. I just have to make them. It’s make-or-break time, the series is tied up,” Brown said. “Obviously we didn’t play that well, I didn’t play that well. We have to bounce back and be ready to fight; that’s what it comes down to."
It will take a much better effort by the Celtics to win Game 5 and regain control of the series.
And while all agree that there will be many hands that will play a role in any success by Boston going forward, Brown continues to be the most important Celtic in this series.
Because when they have won, more times than not Brown has been one of if not the best player for the Celtics.
And as for Tatum and Walker, we have seen the Celtics emerge victorious when each of them has had a subpar game, often because of Brown picking up the slack.
But in Game 4, we saw first-hand what happens when Brown has an off-night at both ends of the floor.
Boston can’t win Game 5 unless all their players, Brown included, come in with a must-win-at-all-costs mindset.
“We have to be ready to fight for our lives next game,” Brown said.
And in doing that, Brown will indeed make the kind of statement that Celtics fans have seen plenty of from him in the playoffs, providing exactly what the team needs to get back on its winning ways at a time when the stakes are high and the dreams of competing for an NBA title are real.