Robb: Jaylen Brown shines in Game 1 after overdue return to major postseason role

(Ashley Landis/Getty Images)

If the Philadelphia 76ers were going to stick with their supersized starting frontcourt for their postseason matchup with the Celtics, somebody in Boston’s starting five was going to have a big mismatch.

More often than not, that player was Jaylen Brown in Game 1 on Monday night.

Josh Richardson split his time between Jayson Tatum and Kemba Walker (with mixed success), while Tobias Harris stuck with Gordon Hayward for much of the evening. That left former Celtic Al Horford stuck with Brown in an assignment the C’s needed to win decisively on a night plenty of shots weren't falling for Boston's other contributors.

Jayson Tatum (32 points) did most of the heavy lifting in the scoring department for the first three quarters of the C’s 109-101 Game 1 victory over the Sixers, but his offense dried up late in the third quarter as the C's blew a 10-point lead. Philadelphia started trapping and denying the All-Star more and stuck Richardson on Walker to limit ability to run and create offense.

All of a sudden, what was seemingly a comfortable 10-point lead for the Celtics dissipated into thin air. The Sixers took advantage of a five-minute Boston scoring drought at the end of the third quarter with a 13-0 run to take the lead, all while Joel Embiid rested on the sidelines for most of the run.

The Celtics looked desperate in the midst of this dry stretch, losing their offensive rhythm and momentum as the team missed eight straight shots in the lull. Nine straight ugly possessions were about to happen early in the fourth quarter once Walker was unable to shake Richardson on a flare screen, which forced Brown to improvise in a one-on-one matchup with Horford as the shot clock wound down.

Brown did not panic though. Instead, he got an Enes Kanter screen set up to use against Horford, but simply used it as a decoy, gaining the separation he needed to step back into a 3. The long-distance bucket with the shot clock winding down put a stop to the 13-0 Sixers run and jumpstarted arguably the best quarter of Brown’s postseason career.

That 3 was the first of Brown's 15 points in the final frame, nearly half of Boston's entire fourth quarter output as the C's rallied for a 109-101 victory. He added a game-tying one mere moments later that had Brad Stevens clapping from the sidelines before the shot even went down.

Brown has had a pretty impressive collection of games in the postseason already in his four-year career in Boston, having played in two Eastern Conference Finals already. However, his return to glory on the big stage on Monday night was a reminder of a progression that had been put on hold last year. Brown arguably sacrificed more than anyone on the roster last year when he was benched early in the year after a slow start and ultimately played the role of a supporting cast member for the 2018-19 Celtics on offense. He got to start in the postseason in the wake of a Marcus Smart oblique injury, but Brown never even attempted more than 14 field goals in any game during Boston’s nine postseason contests.

The guy that scored 20+ points on eight different occasions in a surprise run to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2018 was forced to take a backseat to the likes of Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward and company in 2019 in a postseason that ended with a whimper for Boston. Team sources told BSJ after that disastrous postseason that Brown was the one guy that everyone was satisfied with how he played, even as the C’s went down. He was able to raise his level of play against elite competition throughout his career and the Celtics probably would have been better off last year if a bigger bulk of the offensive load went to him after he snapped out of an early-season funk.

That time has come now though. One year later, he’s a clear-cut No. 2 scoring option on the roster at the moment alongside Tatum, with Kemba Walker still working his way back to full speed.

Back in the role he has excelled in before, Brown turned the tide in the fourth quarter of Game 1, starting with his stepback 3 on Horford. His improved 3-point shooting and shot creation were on full display in the first five minutes of the fourth quarter, as he led Boston on a 17-5 run to retake command of the game. Brown posted 12 of his 29 points during that run, rescuing an offense that had gone flat for much of the second half. Brown also tied several of his postseason career-highs with five made 3s, 4 assists and 3 steals.

“They had a run, and that’s what basketball is about, switching momentum, things like that,” Brown explained. “We had to lock in, get some stops, flip our mindset. I went down, quad injury, that kind of messed up our rotations a little bit, but that’s life. You get hit with adversity, you’ve gotta respond. You can’t look around, you’ve got to get up and fight. So that’s what we did after they went on that run. We fought and we ended up winning the game.”

Brown and Tatum ultimately combined for 61 of Boston’s 109 points in the win, but it was Brown’s fourth quarter