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Jaylen Brown Was The Celtics’ Tone-Setter In Game 1

Key Highlights

  • Jaylen Brown dropped 22 points, six rebounds, three steals, three blocks and two assists in the Boston Celtics’ Game 1 win over the Dallas Mavericks.
  • Brown served as Luke Doncic’s primary defender and forced two turnovers against him
  • The Celtics outscored Dallas by 12 points during Brown’s 37 minutes

Game 1 needed just seconds for Jaylen Brown to announce himself. To be clear he was going to be the star of the evening. Enforcing that he was ready and eager for another crack at lifting the Larry O’Brien Trophy. Showing growth that is driving him to new heights this season.

After Al Horford won the tip and directed the ball to Brown, Kyrie Irving snuck up behind him and missed. Brown just dove down (a recurring theme for him on this one), beat Irving to pick him off, and passed to Derrick White.

Twenty seconds later, Horford shot, drove and banked home the opening dunk of the night — a night defined by Brown’s multifaceted brilliance. In all 37 minutes, the 6-foot-6 wing poured in a team-high 22 points (65.3 percent true shooting), six boards, three steals, three blocks and two assists.

He started many things guarding Luka Doncic, usually in front of the court line. Look for Doncic on switches to force him into space and create driving opportunities. He found open teammates when the help fell. He covered gaps as an off-ball defender.

Midway through the third, Doncic sank a three-pointer and cut Boston’s lead to eight — the result of Brown dancing under a screen against him and a late rebound. In the next five minutes, Brown scored eight points, hit three shots, drew two fouls, got an assist and got another layup. Boston’s lead extended to 8 to 22.

Throughout his career, he has conceded the most goals to any player. But given Thursday’s struggles and his fine signings, he may have been more than happy. There wasn’t anyone better than him on the floor, and, to be honest, it wasn’t even that close – his only rival was Kristaps Porzingis’ 21 minutes of shooting and line defense.

Brown’s exit highlighted his strengths: scoring early, offensively, and cutting the ball off the ball defensively. It also highlighted his development: passing vision, decision making on the ball, defensive ball awareness, and screen navigation.

For a player whose flaws have at times looked impressive to match his clear, special highs, Game 1 deviated from that — a recap of the small jump he’s enjoyed this season to become a markedly improved player.

The arrival of Porzingis and Jrue Holiday has arguably transformed Boston from the best team of the past few years to the juggernaut of 2023-24, a 77-20 team that has been the best in the league for almost eight months now. Yet Brown’s growth was just as important. He’s refined a few areas enough that they’ve come together to give him a fuller star, no longer bound by rigid (albeit, important) ways to establish his brand.

From the jump, he defended Doncic. He refused to sink on fakes, created high pick-ups, disrupted any early turnover opportunity, and provided a blocker to prevent the bright star from throwing the Celtics’ defense. Their heavy scheme meant he couldn’t chase Doncic all game, but he did just enough to leave the hole.

Doncic’s individual production — 30 points, 10 rebounds, two steals — showed up. But Brown’s offensive efforts have contributed to limiting his overall impact (one assist, four turnovers, five free throw attempts). Dallas’ offensive rating was just 95.9 with Doncic down. While that is not all about Boston and Brown’s murders, it does speak in part to their work.

The Mavericks also entered Thursday averaging 3.2 alley-oops per playoff game. They didn’t have it in Game 1. Brown’s rim protection contributed to that. Between the fun on the ball and the attention off the ball, it was one of the best defensive plays of his NBA tenure. He brought such an important focus and demeanor – amped-up, internalized without the carelessness that sometimes comes from such bottled-up energy.

As a scorer, Brown was selective. He attempted only 12 shots and missed seven. However, the tempo on his drives and the way he set up his moves was clean. Knowing how to navigate Dallas’ interior size and support, he used control on the descent. Doncic was an early and frequent victim of Boston’s offense in transition and Brown took advantage several times.

Late in the third, he came up with a triple pull over the limp limbs of Daniel Gafford and kicked the fourth with a whirring dervish finish inside. Those buckets highlighted his second-half surge, a five-minute streak that ensured the Mavericks’ comeback wouldn’t be seen until it was complete.

If Brown hadn’t been in a long free-throw funk (61.9 percent in the playoffs, 72 percent in his career) and gone 6-of-11 from the line, his goals would have been successful. Regardless, his cut proved to be important – the damaging style, the jackknife to match the swing, the loping length of Tatum’s drive.

In the third quarter, Derek Lively II’s defensive flexibility and rim blocking created some problems for Boston’s offense. So, in the span of 75 seconds, Brown, who has a strong instinct, burst twice to the rim and drew two critical fouls on the rookie center. The second one was the fifth in this game and it inspired him to hit the pine. Lively’s groundout moved Kleber to center and soon after, Gafford re-entered the contest.

Lively is huge in Dallas, especially defensively. When he played six minutes in the third, the Celtics scored 11 points. Once he sat, they scored 25 points in 9.5 minutes before head coach Jason Kidd pulled Doncic and Irving, emptying the bench 100-75. Brown’s aggressiveness helped a lot in that regard.

The Mavericks defense is always looking to maintain a presence on the edge, big time. That philosophy fueled their success through three rounds because all their opponents either lacked the space or the panache to play (or both) to punish them.

The Celtics, however, represent an entirely different challenge: a viable five-man offense and the necessary space, ball movement and passing to thrive. In Game 1, Brown remained central in this unique challenge against Dallas.

Among his most common points of maturity is the kickout pass. If there is nothing to drink inside as a driver, you are more connected to reading the sling in the circuit or other release valves (a la when Boston puts someone in the dunker zone).

Compared to previous years, there is no representative of the popular play – average assist, assist with 100 things, potential assists – hold this jump well. But Brown simply works with a newfound patience and composure when Plan A is eliminated or the defense sends more bodies his way.

Dallas wants to slow down the paint and gauge players’ decisions on the fly. Brown has happily embraced their approach and set the table for many quality appearances. The three assistants sell under his sharp scrutiny.

Game 1 was a team effort for Boston. Seven of the eight players in the rotation have covered periods, stretches or an entire game of high-level football. That’s what it takes to dismantle an opponent like Dallas. In the middle of the deep stood Brown. His rare fouls occur mostly at the free-throw line, an area he has earned to come off his dominance in the last few seconds.

The various factors behind his resilience and ushering in his best season ever came together – a mosaic of why he’s been so good and how he’s come to shed that label.

Motivated by everything, he played the kind of good game in a 22-6-3-3-2 line that doesn’t pass well, which is the sure feeling of a great player who does good things. And, boy, did Brown do some big things Thursday night.

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