BOSTON — Jaylen Brown got the opportunity to start Sunday afternoon, and we all promptly were reminded why the third-year wing had been dismissed from the duty of starting games of significance.
With Marcus Smart out of the fold for the foreseeable future, Celtics head coach Brad Stevens had to determine who would fill the void in the starting lineup (a process he admitted wasn’t very scientific). He elected to start Brown, which made sense given the 22-year-old mostly has thrived in his reserve role and was deserving of another shot.
But that success didn’t translate in the Celtics’ 84-74 NBA Playoff first-round Game 1 victory over the Indiana Pacers at TD Garden.
Brown delivered a largely uninspired performance, posting just two points on 1-for-5 shooting. He had five rebounds, no assists, one steal, three turnovers and a technical foul to boot. And while Brown has been lauded for his ability to defend, he had little impact on that end.
Meanwhile, Marcus Morris was the player to rise to the occasion and take over the game. If not for his 14 first-half points, the Celtics could have found themselves in a world of trouble.
So that begs the question, should Brown starting be just a one-game thing?
Lest we forget Morris started 53 of his 75 games this season, basically shooting himself out of the starting five down the stretch. But if there’s anything the scoresheet won’t show, it’s the energy Smart brought to the starting unit, and Morris can match that far more than Brown.
If you look at it from a pure numbers standpoint though, it makes sense to start Morris. His field goal percentage, points and assists per game, as well as offensive rating, are better as a starter than as a reserve. For Brown, his offensive rating is miles better as a reserve than as a starter (94 vs. 107), and the defensive rating difference, though better as a starter, is narrow (110 vs. 105). Brown got more points, rebounds and assists per game when used off the bench this season.
You could make the argument that there’d be a bit too much redundancy in the lineup if Morris served as a starter, since he’s a true forward while Brown can serve as a guard, but in some respects it could help the Celtics match up better in the Pacers series.
Aron Baynes would be tasked with Myles Turner and Kyrie Irving would face Darren Collison. From there, Morris, Jayson Tatum and Al Horford could handle Wesley Matthews, Thaddeus Young and Bojan Bogdanovic.
It would be a bigger lineup, indeed, but if we’ve learned anything about Stevens over the years, it’s that he couldn’t care less about defined roles and is more than willing to play really big or really small at any point.
It’s fair to wonder if Morris’ performance Sunday is making us victims of the moment here, but there’s also a demonstrated history of Morris succeeding as a starter this season and Brown being better used off the bench. It’s not so much a knock on Brown, but rather a way of better leveraging each players’ strengths.
Of course, starting is relatively arbitrary in the broad scheme of things. But both the numbers and eye test have shown that players respond differently based on where they begin the game, so it’s unfair to totally dismiss the significance of those roles.
While the end result for the Celtics in Game 1 was a win, sure, it wasn’t always smooth sailing and Brown was ineffective. There’s no reason Stevens shouldn’t at least consider swapping Morris and Brown in Game 2 and possibly beyond.