The All-NBA forward didn’t fill up the box score, but his defense on Jimmy Butler in the 4th and leadership heading into Game 4 made all the difference.
The headline of the night will be the Celtics grabbing Game 4 in a 116-99 blowout in Miami to avoid a sweep in the Eastern Conference Finals. Below the fold will be Jayson Tatum’s 33-11-7 MVP performance to stave off elimination. Page 2 will highlight Boston’s 18-of-45 from behind the arc, including Grant Williams hitting four of his six three-point attempts and stellar defense against Jimmy Butler.
Somewhere in the small print will be Jaylen Brown. He struggled in Games 1, 2, and 3, hitting just 38% of his shots including 2-of-20 from behind the arc. Game 4 wasn’t demonstrably better; he scored 17 points on 7-for-16 from the field and 2-for-5 from the line. It’s been a struggle after carrying such a strong close to the regular season into the first two rounds of the playoffs.
But on Tuesday, Brown found other ways to contribute.
“I can’t force it,” Brown said. “They’re trying to make me a playmaker, so tonight, I think I did a better job just getting into the paint and kicking it out — we got an advantage, made the next pass and were able to get some open looks pretty much all night. I gotta continue to do that and if I continue to do that, my shot will start falling and we’ll be able to go on a little run.”
JB had four dimes on the night and a handful of hockey assists. However, his biggest contribution may have come on the defensive end. With the Celtics surging in the fourth quarter, they also shut down the Heat defensively. A large part of that was clamping down Jimmy Butler.
Brown credited the team’s connectivity on defense, but individually, he was a huge part of limiting what had been Butler’s quarter all series so far. Jimmy Buckets was Jimmy Broken in the clutch. He made just one of his five shots and grifted his way to the free throw line four times for five points. Brown outscored him with 6 in large part because of his stalwart defense.
The pump fakes, the elbows and shoulders to create space, the flailing — none of that mattered when it mattered most.
“Smart was in my ear, letting me know where the game was at. ‘Just keep being aggressive. Keep making the right play. It ain’t always gotta be me putting the ball in the basket.’ I helped us win tonight,” Brown said.
Social media, TV pundits, and even our CelticsBlog Slack have prematurely started thinking about the offseason with Brown’s pending extension front and center. After an All-NBA Second Team nod this year, he’s eligible for a supermax of five years, $290 million dollars. As aforementioned, it’s been tough sledding in the conference finals for the six-year pro and it’s natural to think about what the future holds the Celtics superstar.
Brown is only thinking about Game 5 at TD Garden on Thursday night.
“We want to come back to Miami,” Brown said. “If that happens, I feel like we’ll feel good about ourselves. The next one should be fun, it should be a big one, and we’re going to come ready to play.”
Before Game 4, the Celtics had an informal team meeting. Brown wouldn’t delve into details too much and even simmered at some of the speculation that has circled the team since arriving in South Beach. As one of the cornerstones of the franchise and now the league, he’s taking on more leadership responsibilities with the players’ union and as an active member of the city of Boston. Those skills are just as prevalent in the Celtics’ locker room.
“Just coming together, talking it out,” Brown said of his teammates’ bond. “A lot of times, when you get to this point down 3-0, locker rooms and teams start to go in the other direction. We wanted to make sure that we stayed together. We wanted to make sure that we look each other in the eye. We came out today and put our best foot forward. I’m proud of our group for doing that.”
It’s hard to imagine that Brown wasn’t a large part of those conversations. And while his box score statistics don’t exactly represent his play, his on court contributions loomed large in a big Game 4 win.