Jaylen Brown

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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Bogdanovic: 'Nothing special' about incident involving Celtics' Jaylen Brown

Bogdanovic: 'Nothing special' about incident involving Celtics' Jaylen Brown

BOSTON -- When you play defense at the level we saw from both teams in Boston’s 84-74 Game 1 win over Indiana, there’s no way to avoid things getting a bit testy.

We saw those emotions from both sides overflow a bit in the fourth quarter.

After Boston’s Jaylen Brown pushed Bojan Bogdanovic in the back on a drive to the basket with 3:20 to play, the two exchanged some not-so-nice words that resulted in Brown being whistled for the personal foul and a technical foul by official Jim Capers.

The incident didn’t seem to impact either player going forward, but it did serve as a reminder of just how emotionally-charged playoff games can be, especially when you’re talking about two of the game’s better teams defensively.

Neither player seemed to show any signs of a carry-over in the few minutes that remained in Game 1, and it sounds like it won’t be an issue or concern leading into Wednesday’s Game 2 tilt.

When Bogdanovic was asked about the incident following Indiana’s practice on Monday (Brad Stevens and the Celtics took the day off), he downplayed the incident as nothing more than what typically happens in the heat of a playoff battle.

“Nothing special,” Bogdanovic said before adding, “It’s just playoff basketball. Trash talking, trying to get me away from my game so nothing special. It’s normal.”

But his play wasn’t, as Bogdanovic scored 12 points - six below his season average while shooting 4-for-11 from the field. And of those 12 points, five came after Brad Stevens had emptied the Celtics' bench.

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How the Celtics channeled their inner Marcus Smart in Game 1 win

AP Photo

How the Celtics channeled their inner Marcus Smart in Game 1 win

BOSTON — It was telling that, in the immediate aftermath of Sunday’s Game 1 victory over the Indiana Pacers, Boston Celtics guard Kyrie Irving made it a point in his walkoff interview with TNT to note how much he missed Marcus Smart and dedicated the win to his injured teammate.

When the Celtics announced that Smart would miss 4-6 weeks with an oblique tear, the immediate concern was not only how the team would defend Pacers sharpshooting wing Bojan Bogdanovic but also account for all the hustle plays that Smart has made his calling card.

If Sunday’s Game 1 was any indication, the Celtics are hoping an uptick in intensity throughout the roster will help fill Smart’s void. The Celtics leaned heavy on a trio of wings to chase Bogdanovic but everyone on the roster seemed to ratchet up their defensive play and Boston produced one of its finest defensive efforts of the season.

According to the NBA’s advanced tracking data, the trio of Jaylen Brown, Gordon Hayward, and Jayson Tatum joined forces to defend Bogdanovic on 58 of his 68 defended possessions and that triumvirate allowed a mere 2 points on 1-of-7 shooting.

Bogdanovic finished with 12 points on 4-of-11 shooting overall but the Celtics limited him to three 3-point attempts and he missed all of them, thanks to the premium put on staying attached and contesting his shots.

But this was a team-wide effort in staying stout. An example:

With the game tied at 45 early in the third quarter, Bogdanovic caught the ball near the top of the arc with Brown chasing. Brown managed to get over the top of an oncoming screen before Domantas Sabonis could get set and denied Bogdanovic’s initial attempt to drive. Bogdanovic eventually accelerated to his right but this time Aron Baynes shuffled over with help, forcing Bogdanovic to give up the ball.

The Celtics were a bit scattered at this point but raced to find their matchups, including Brown, who was back in front of Bogdanovic by the time he got the ball back on the wing with 11 on the shot clock.

Bogdanovic called for a screen then, hoping to catch Brown leaning, raced away from it. Brown shuffled to stay in front and kept fighting after getting pinned when Bogdanovic cut back towards the original screen.

Baynes trusted Brown to stick with Bogdanovic and stayed attached to roll man Myles Turner. When Bogdanovic tried to thread a pass to the paint, Al Horford shuffled over to further disrupt and Tatum ended up with a steal.

Brown wasn’t perfect — Bogdanovic beat him in the opening minutes for a layup — but the effort rarely waned. The Celtics ultimately limited the Pacers to two third-quarter field goals — only one of which actually went through the cylinder, another was a goaltend — while rallying ahead in the frame.

"I expected [the defensive intensity],” said Irving, who dove on the floor chasing a steal in the third quarter, showcasing his own Smart-like grit at a time when Boston was taking control of the game. 

I just think that just on the offensive end there were going to be some things that were going to happen. But, defensively, I knew that our length, our versatility were going to be a positive for us, especially in this series.”

Later Irving added, “Defensively, I think we’re going to be in the right spots. It’s just matching that effort and being smart about it.”

Being smart about it? Or being Smart about it.

Brown was credited with a team-high 31 possessions defended against Bogdanovic and limited him to 2 points on 1-of-4 shooting. Pacers players were 2-of-9 shooting for 5 points in 57 total possessions against Brown, according to the NBA’s matchup data.

Hayward held Bogdanovic scoreless in 17 possessions, while Tatum was credited with doing the same on 10 possessions (Tatum, though, was beat by Bogdanovic on a layup in the second half but wasn’t tagged the primary defender on the play).

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that much of Boston’s success on the perimeter can be traced to the stout defense they got on the back line, especially from Horford.

Consider this early first-quarter sequence in which Horford found himself isolated on Pacers guard Darren Collison. Alone on the wing, Collison got fancy with his dribble and Horford braced for a drive. Boston's big man kept shuffling his feet and Collison couldn’t find an opening before electing to pull up from about 15 feet. Leaning in as Horford raised his arms vertically to avoid fouling, Collison lost the ball and Horford dove on the floor to tip it to Baynes for a turnover.

Tatum, Irving, and Hayward each generated two steals while Tatum had a monster block on Thad Young late in the second quarter when the Pacers were looking to extend a double-digit lead.

Thanks in part to a dominating third quarter, the Celtics limited the Pacers to 74 points. The Pacers’ shooting splits of 33.3 FG% / 22.2 3PT% / 57.1 FT% were ghastly and helped the Celtics win a game in which they shot a cringeworthy 36.4 percent overall.

"This is not a series for the timid, we’ve known that going in,” said Celtics coach Brad Stevens. "This is a heck of a team with a heck of a coach and the minute you let your foot off the gas or you don’t play the right way you’re going to get beat.”

It’s the sort of game that Smart would have loved. He took to Twitter after Sunday’s game to write, “Hate not being out there. As a TEAM we can do anything. Let’s get Game 2. One at a time."

The Celtics have to continue to play hard and play smart. Or maybe they just need to keep being Smart about the way they play.

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