BOSTON — Celtics coach Brad Stevens said before Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals that rookie forward Jaylen Brown has earned his playoff minutes because “he adds value to winning. That’s something you have to earn.”
Brown’s impressive performance against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday night at TD Garden should earn him many more minutes in this series.
The 20-year-old rookie scored 10 points on 5-for-7 shooting with a team-high nine rebounds in 21 minutes off the C’s bench. Boston had a plus-4 scoring differential when he was on the court. All of the other five Celtics players who logged 20-plus minutes were negative.
“I thought he played well,” Stevens said. “But I think it also was very evident that athletically he’s just a special athlete. He can do things other guys can’t do, whether it’s offensive rebounding or getting to the basket or whatever the case may be. We need some of those things, so I would expect him to continue to play a large role for us in this series.”
Brown’s effort wasn’t enough to push the Celtics to victory as the Cavs dominated throughout for a 117-104 win. But Brown’s scoring, athleticism and defense were part of a short list of bright spots for the Celtics.
His defense on LeBron James was particularly encouraging. James exploded for a game-high 38 points on 14-for-24 shooting, but in two possessions against Brown he missed both times on contested shots. The first was a driving layup from 5-feet out in the second quarter that rimmed out, but the C’s were called for goaltending.
The second and final one-on-one matchup between Brown and James came late in the third quarter.
Kevin Love came over to set a pick for James, but Brown wisely got to the spot before Love and prevented the pick-and-roll from taking place. Brown then got right into James’ chest, quickly moving his feet to cut off a drive to the basket. As the shot clock trickled down to zero, James was forced to push off Brown, who recovered nicely to contest a 25-foot step-back 3-point attempt that missed. That’s the kind of shot the Celtics want James taking.
Check out the full play in the tweet below.
Very few players in the NBA have the foot speed, length and size to body James on the perimeter in this manner. The Celtics threw everything they had at James in the first half as Stevens went 10 players deep into his bench. James had success against everyone, but Brown gave him the most trouble.
Of course, we only have a two-play sample between them so far. That’s a tiny number. But the Celtics don’t have any better options for guarding James. Brown can’t be the only guy to take on this role, but he should be the No. 1 or No. 2 option for Stevens in this matchup.
Brown’s ability to make James’ job a little tougher and rebound should result in a larger role for him in this series. Even though he’s a rookie, he’s clearly not afraid of defending one of the top 1o players in league history.
In fact, he welcomes the challenge.
“The game plan was just to be ready. They sent me clips, probably hours worth of clips on LeBron,” Brown said. “They sent me a lot of stuff on Kyle Korver. I watched everything.
“I was ready for everybody. (Wednesday) it just felt like I was on LeBron a little more. Next game it might be someone else. Whoever it is you just have to be ready. I’m ready for any challenge anybody throws at me. ”
Thumbnail photo via Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports Images