Celtics

Welcome to Jaylen Brown's redemption tour

Welcome to Jaylen Brown's redemption tour

BOSTON — If you so desired, you could compile a highlight reel of Boston Celtics players and coaches screaming at Jaylen Brown this season. It felt like nary a game passed without someone (loudly) informing Brown about a missed rotation or defensive miscue. Marcus Morris got so mad about one instance of less-than-desired intensity that he shoved Brown during a timeout in Miami and the video served as an encapsulation of Boston’s frustration-filled 2018-19 season.

Nobody is spared from tongue-lashings in the NBA — heck, cameras caught Brad Stevens giving Kyrie Irving some grief for a lack of defensive focus heading to a timeout during Wednesday’s Game 2 — but it was fair to wonder why Brown so frequently had teammates pointing out his errors.

The answer, teammates and coaches often noted throughout the season, was that everyone simply holds Brown to a higher standard because they know how impactful he can be on the defensive end.

The Jaylen Brown Redemption Tour had been rolling along for a few months now but it’s really been thrust into the spotlight in the playoffs. Brown, who was unfairly maligned for much of Boston’s early-season woes and the way the original starting unit fizzled, has been one of the team’s more consistent presences since the start of the new calendar year. 

But having elevated to a starting role against the Pacers, Brown has upped his defensive intensity and has his coach gushing about his offensive decision-making, all of which has helped Boston to a 2-0 series lead.

"I just think Jaylen has shown tremendous growth,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said on a conference call before the team flew to Indiana on Thursday. "And here’s a guy that, early in the season, got a lot of flak for a small sample size where he struggled. Then he had a really really good year after that.  He just kept working, kept getting better. He’s worked hard on improving things that he needed to improve.”

Brown previously drew effusive praise from Stevens for the percipient kickout pass in the final minute of Game 2 that led to Jayson Tatum’s go-ahead 3-pointer. Brown, who had missed a driving layup that could have tied the game with 1:50 to play, was racing in transition after Al Horford’s game-saving swat of Bojan Bogdanovic when he encountered traffic near the rim. 

Instead of trying to muscle home a difficult layup, Brown got the defense to commit then sent a bullet to the corner where an open Tatum canned the decisive triple.

“He had [the ball] in transition, he had to beat a point guard, he had to beat him with his left hand, his off hand, he had to raise up, get his eyes to the rim, he draws [attention], and he whips a pass across the court and puts it on a dime to his shooter in the corner,” Stevens gushed again on Thursday. "That’s a great pass for a lot of guys -- for everybody, that’s a great play by anybody. 

"And I thought that pass was very indicative of [Brown’s progress]. Not only the physical delivery but also the wherewithal in that moment. [Myles] Turner had been really effective at the rim and for Jaylen to make that play was great. Then, next play down, Jayson gets the drive and Jayson’s got a chance to pull up, and he dumps it off [to Gordon Hayward for a layup]. I just thought those were really really good plays by those two guys late in the game.”

For his part, Brown shrugged off the decision to pass. He said it was the easy choice when block-maestro Turner came over with help. But Brown knew how smitten his coach was with the decision.

“[Stevens] was just smiling and said that was a helluva play, a big-time play,” said Brown. " I said to him, ‘You probably thought I was going to lay it up, didn’t you?’ He laughed, he said, ‘Nah, I knew you were going to make the right play.”

When the Celtics lost Marcus Smart to a torn oblique in the final week of the regular season, Brown was the obvious choice to elevate to his starting role. Still, Stevens left the door open to examine other options. Brown has made a strong case to stay in that spot, playing inspired defense against Bogdanovic in Game 1 and making key plays in Game 2.

Brown’s defensive numbers weren’t as glitzy in Game 2, a product of both teams’ offense finding a better rhythm than the Game 1 rock fight, but the NBA’s tracking data suggests Brown’s covers scored just eight points on 3-of-8 shooting overall. Slightly concerning is how the Pacers scored 27 points as a team in the 16 possessions that Brown defended Bogdanovic (with the wing scoring 5 points on 2-of-4 shooting, individually). But Brown’s struggles weren’t for a lack of effort.

And Brown recognizes that, particularly in trying to help fill Smart’s void, his play will be judged largely on his defensive intensity.

"That’s where series change, games change,” said Brown. "I’ve got to hang my hat on defense, whether it’s boxing out, guarding 4s, 2s, some of the ugly possessions. We have guys who can score the ball. We need guys who can grit their teeth and make plays and make things happen in the fourth quarter. 

"Guys like Gordon Hayward, Kyrie, Jayson Tatum – we have a lot of offensive firepower. But we have to make sure we’re sound and solid, diving for loose balls and getting rebounds, boxing out and [being] physical.”

At the start of the season, Brown lingered near the back end of ESPN’s Real Plus/Minus stats. In mid-November, Brown ranked 417th out of the 430 players that had appeared in games to that point. By season’s end, Brown was middle of the pack, elevating to 234th out of 514 total players. He even finished in the positive for defensive plus/minus and his RPM wins — an estimate of the number of wins each player contributed to his team’s total — was plus-2.52, or identical to Marcus Morris, who drew All-Star buzz after a strong first half. 

Brown has been an incredible luxury for the Celtics the past two seasons. Last year, with Irving and Hayward sidelined by injury, Brown led the Celtics in scoring while the team surged to Game 7 of the East finals. This year, with Smart out, it’s Brown trying to give the team a defensive jolt. 

His teammates probably won’t stop screaming at him any time soon. But only because they know how impactful he can be. And they know they need him to reach their loftiest goals this postseason.

And the Jaylen Brown Redemption Tour has potential to help spur the redemption tour the whole team is embarking upon after an underwhelming regular season.

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Gordon Hayward's return will help Celtics the most in these four areas

Gordon Hayward's return will help Celtics the most in these four areas

BOSTON — With Gordon Hayward set to return possibly as early as Monday night’s game against Cleveland, he’ll be rejoining a squad that’s playing great basketball which has them among the NBA’s top teams.

But here’s the thing. 

Before suffering a fourth metacarpal fracture in his left hand which has been surgically repaired, Hayward and the Celtics were playing the best basketball of any team in the league. 

Can they get back to where they were with Hayward?

If they do, look for Boston to make notable strides in the following areas of play. 

OFFENSIVE OPTIONS

Now keep in mind, even when Hayward was healthy, the Celtics weren’t exactly killin’ the game with a ton of points or red-hot shooting. 

What they did more than anything else was create a pick-your-poison scenario on a game-to-game basis for defenses.

While there’s some element of that still around in his absence, there’s no debate that Hayward’s presence makes Boston a much more dangerous team to defend. 

And upon his return, the Celtics will be even more dangerous, thanks to the emergence of Jaylen Brown, who has been delivering All-Star quality production with Hayward out, along with the solid contributions Boston has been getting all season from Jayson Tatum and Kemba Walker. 

DEFENSIVE VERSATILITY

The NBA is all about creating mismatches on the floor, so teams with the ability to switch effectively on defense will find success. The return of Hayward gives Boston another body who has the size, strength and mobility to defend multiple positions. 

When he was healthy, the Celtics' defensive rating of 101.5 was the fifth-best mark in the NBA, which was surprising when you consider they lost defensive anchors Al Horford (Philadelphia) and Aron Baynes (Phoenix) in the offseason.

Boston’s defensive rating without Hayward dipped to 104.7, which still ranks seventh in the NBA. 

And while Hayward’s defensive ability has been questioned in the past, his defensive rating of 100.6 stacks up well relative to his teammates. 

WING DEPTH

If you want to win in the NBA, you better have wings — and that’s plural, not singular. And the Celtics have more than their share of talented ones, which is why the return of Hayward is so vital to the team’s overall success. 

Hayward has the ability to do many things on the floor, evident by his stats this season which touch on all the key categories. 

In addition to averaging 18.9 points per game, Hayward is also grabbing 7.1 rebounds to go with 4.1 assists per game.

Those are good numbers for sure. 

But what makes the Celtics so dangerous is they have not one but two others delivering similar production or better from the wing position, in Jayson Tatum (21.2 points, 7.0 rebounds) and Jaylen Brown (20.0 points, 6.9 assists).

STRONGER BENCH

The Celtics’ second unit has taken its share of hits this season because they don’t score as much as some — OK, most — other reserve groups. Of course that’s partly because Boston has one of the highest-scoring starting fives in the NBA, which means limited opportunities for the backups and thus, less points. 

Because of that, it puts a greater premium on their bench players to come in and impact the game at the defensive end of the floor. 

And the return of Gordon Hayward will provide that group some much-needed depth with what will likely be the return of defensive ace Marcus Smart back to that unit which has been solid this season. 

According to hoopsstats.com, Boston has allowed opposing second units to score 33.4 points per game which is the fourth-fewest allowed in the NBA this season.  

That number will likely take a drop with Smart directing that group more than he is currently. 

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Cavaliers, which tips off Monday at 7 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Tommy & Mike have the call at 7:30 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.

Celtics injury report: Robert Williams ruled out vs. Cavaliers

Celtics injury report: Robert Williams ruled out vs. Cavaliers

The Boston Celtics will be missing some size on their bench for Monday night's game vs. the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Robert Williams has been ruled out with left hip soreness, the team announced Sunday. Rookie Romeo Langford was also ruled out as he continues to recover from the ankle injury he suffered during a game with the Maine Red Claws.

On the bright side for Boston, Gordon Hayward could make his long-awaited return to the court after missing the last month with a fractured left hand.

Hayward originally was slated to return from his injury around Christmas.

The Celtics (16-5) and Cavaliers (5-17) will face off at 7:30 p.m. ET on Monday.

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Cavaliers, which tips off Monday at 7 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Tommy & Mike have the call at 7:30 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.