Team USA owned an absurd 58-point lead when Jaylen Brown caught a pass in transition near the midcourt stripe following a Japan turnover in the fourth quarter of Thursday’s group play at the FIBA championships. It would have been understandable if he immediately downshifted and took the ball into the corner to burn off some clock.
But that’s not how Brown operates.
Despite the three black jerseys in his vicinity, including one trying to deter his path to the basket, Brown took two hard dribbles then exploded off the right blocks. A Japan defender leaped with him but, quickly accepting his fate, simply ducked his head to avoid fouling while Brown delivered an emphatic one-handed dunk. Brown's American teammates sprang off the bench and flexed in celebration.
It would be a bit of fool’s gold to make too much of Brown’s loud performance against a clearly overmatched Japan. He scored a team-high 20 points on 9-of-15 shooting to go along with seven rebounds and a couple steals over 22 minutes, 36 seconds of floor time.
Brown’s biggest highlight might have been unleashing a windmill dunk after streaking in alone following a steal in the first half and he earned a shiny sponsored baton after being named the Player of the Game.
But when asked for his view on Thursday’s lopsided win, Brown didn’t linger on his accomplishments.
"I think we have a lot of room for improvement,” said Brown.
That poster-dunk sequence and Brown’s postgame comments essentially confirm what we’ve long known about Brown: He’s never quite satisfied and always yearns for more. That attitude, that drive, that unrelenting style of play should excite Celtics fans far more than any dunk or point total. Brown so clearly yearns to show the rest of the NBA world what he can accomplish and won’t allow himself to throttle down in that quest.
An NBA photographer got a snapshot of Brown running onto the court with the message, “Time to show the world you’ve got game,” plastered in block letters on the tunnel wall. Brown later posted it to his Instagram account. With two Celtics teammates sidelined by injury (Jayson Tatum, Marcus Smart), Brown did just that.
Brown had a couple quiet games to start group play, though he played with a noticeable defensive intensity in Team USA’s tournament-opening win over the Czech Republic. Against Japan, he beefed up his stat line a bit. The bigger question is whether he can use the momentum gained Thursday to propel him as Team USA enters second-round play.
Greece awaits Saturday and a chance to joust yet again with NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, the man who helped end Boston’s season last year. Brown isn’t likely to be any more deterred from attacking the basket with the Greek Freak in the paint. A snapshot of Brown dunking over Antetokounmpo went viral during the playoffs last season and, even as Brown braced for a response, he caught Antetokounmpo with another dunk soon after.
Japan was a glorified exhibition with Team USA’s spot in Round 2 secured. The competition level wasn’t close to what they’d previously seen versus Czech Republic and Turkey. But the games from here on out will challenge them and, especially with Tatum sidelined, there’s an opportunity for Brown to assert himself.
Brown’s situation has been well-chronicled this summer. He’s extension eligible before opening night and, with many of the top 2020 free agents having already inked extensions, Brown could be one of the glitzier names available next summer. He’s positioned himself for a big payday and the Celtics must determine if they want to make him a bountiful offer or wait for Brown to prove he’s capable of playing to that price tag this season.
Brown will be a restricted free agent next summer, giving the Celtics the ability to match any offer he receives.
For now, Brown is eager to remind the rest of the NBA that last season wasn’t a true glimpse at his potential. The message on the wall inside the arena clearly resonates with him and he’s not about to downshift — regardless of the situation.
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