When Jaylen Brown locks in, proceed with caution

In 1989, a young Doug Collins and an even younger Michael Jordan sat on a podium in front of a room full of reporters, all of whom were wondering, “Doug, what did you call that, preparing Jordan for ‘The Shot’?” “The Shot” , although Jordan’s career is knowingly full of too many big shots and big moments for this nickname to be reduced to one play, refers to the crooked jump that the greatest basketball player of all time sank over the outstretched, punching arms of Jordan Craig Cleveland Cavaliers guard Ehlo wants to defeat the Cavs and send his Chicago Bulls to the second round of the ’89 playoffs. And as Collins put it, the piece, which he described as helping to create such an iconic moment, was simple: “It was, ‘Bring the ball to Michael, everybody get that shit out of the way.'”

On Thursday night, Boston Celtics big man Al Horford wasn’t nearly as colorful in his response to a reporter’s question as to how the Cs fueled one of the biggest comebacks in recent NBA Finals history to put the Golden State Warriors in Stun Game 1 and Steal Home – Court Advantage in the series. Horford didn’t have to be smart or rude; He was just as effective in saying what he needed to say to make it clear that one man in particular deserved a lot of the comeback credit.

“I think for us Jaylen Brown was the key.”

While Game 1 of the 2022 NBA Finals will be universally remembered by most as the game in which the Celtics spurred a 20-plus point turnaround to go 1-0 up against the putative series favorite, this may be a better way to ensure that it’s anchored in a little corner of the history books somewhere by putting its fourth period on a pedestal as “The Jaylen Brown Quarter”. He scored 10 of the Celtics’ first 14 points in frame and assisted Boston’s other two baskets at that stretch. Overall, he scored or assisted in 20 of the Celtics’ first 23 points in the fourth quarter.

Entering fourth, Brown was 6 for 17 from the field with 14 points and had an overall plus-minus of -5, another mediocre outing that left him staring. He finished his evening with 24 points, making 10 of his 23 shots for the game and recording a 27 plus in the fourth quarter, level on points with Jayson Tatum and Derrick White for the game lead. This is nothing short of remarkable; The Celtics are nothing short of behind in this series without them.

Were it not for Brown’s fourth, calls for an end to that one-game streak would be throbbing this morning. Without them, we might still be putting the biggest emphasis from yesterday’s contest on how the Celtics seem to have an aversion to playing anything resembling basketball in the third quarter, period; or Jayson Tatum’s poor shooting, despite his career-best 13 assists; or an early insistence by the Celtics on defending the best shooter the sport has ever seen drop the cover schemes.

None of that today though. Instead, we should look back on Game 1 — specifically Q4 — as that Game Frame Jaylen Brown adopted, as he’s made a habit of so far this postseason.

First some household matters. The Celtics went into the fourth quarter 92-80 behind the scorching Warriors, having just been beaten 38-24 in the third. At the end of the game, Boston went into the locker room with a final total of 120 points while Golden State left home with 108 points. This calculation shows that Boston won the fourth quarter 40-16, the largest fourth-quarter lead in NBA Finals history. It’s hard not to point out Brown’s insane stretch to start the quarter when the nudge, not the nudge, got the ball rolling and put the Celtics back in play.

The run began around the 11-minute mark — the score 92-80, Golden State — when Brown drilled a step-back jumper over Draymond Green, who he had jerked off position with the step-back before his shot . Moments later, Brown drilled a 3-pointer into Jordan Poole’s face, the three-pointer marking his first make in six attempts from behind the arc (he would finish 2 of 8, with more on his other make in a moment). In subsequent possession, Brown played a role in influencing a Poole turnover. He converted that turnover into points and threw a soft throw to Robert Williams that slammed him home. 92-87, Warriors, who took time out after Williams’ dunk to straighten things out. “Here comes Boston,” ESPN’s Mark Jones yelled into the microphone, his words amid a restless murmur from the Chase Center crowd.

After the time-out, Brown picked up where he left off, snagging a (terrible) pass from Andre Iguodala out of the air, taking it the other way and finding Payton Pritchard for a layup at the break. Boston’s unanswered 9-0 run was then met with an Iguodala dunk, which Brown soon answered with a corner three. (It’s 94-92 here, warrior, in case you weren’t paying attention). Moments later, with Golden State leading 97-92, Brown brought it to the pole himself, finishing with a nosedive and an up-and-under layup. Brown gave Derrick White back-to-back assists on Boston’s next two scoring possessions, both threes, the latter a hard-fought prayer that White cranked up his personal sliders for. That treble tied the score at 103. Golden State would never lead again; Just because he could, Brown capped his night with a final dime to a slicing Al Horford who converted the pass into a three-point icing on the cake.

(At any point during this stretch, I would have had one of Mark Jackson’s trademark quips, “Mom, there goes that man.” And I hate when he says that.)

“[At the] Early in the fourth quarter, with the way he came out and played, with his energy and goals,” Horford continued to remark after the game. “I just think for us that was the beginning of something.”

Head coach Ime Udoka added that Brown “had a great start to the fourth quarter. With [Jayson Tatum] fighting a little, we went to him more. He was extremely aggressive going down. The big guys turned him on and got the shots he wanted.”

That has tended to be the case for Brown over the course of this postseason, as his now-famous ability to find and create his own shot really came into its own in the final quarter. After last night’s stellar performance in the fourth quarter, Brown is now shooting 63 percent from the field and 65 percent from three for this postseason’s quarter. His fourth quarter effective percentage of field goals is now 76.4; Among players who have had at least 150 possessions in the fourth quarter this postseason, this is the second-best percentage, behind only Reggie Bullock (76.9).

Brown also leads all players with 130 points in the fourth quarter. There were breakaways – Brown only scored three points combined in the fourth quarter of Games 6 and 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Miami Heat – and there may well be outside nights moving into the future. But the way Brown continues to react in the fourth half, especially when his fellow star struggles to score on his own, is a show of surefire resilience and just the right amount of unabated cheekiness to make a certain ESPN commentator proud would do.

Getting Brown the shots he wanted is something that’s more of a formality for a keeper of his batting who scores the first goal. It’s the way he found a way to blend offensive creation for himself with creation for others that really distinguished his effort last night. Despite persistent problems with his grip and the occasional faulty pass, Brown has shown a steady upward trend as a playmaker, particularly during some of his best late-game stretches. Last night was a prime example of just that fact: all of Brown’s five assists came in the fourth quarter when arguably they were needed most.

No, he’s nowhere near the passer Jayson Tatum has become, nor has he found a way to maintain success as a possession starter. But Brown’s finest moments shine brightly due to his adept reading of defensive schematics as he tries to find a teammate for a quick shot before the defense can settle down. He has also developed into a pinpoint break starter that opponents have to fear as both a feeder and a scavenger.

“It’s something he grows on and learns about,” Udoka said. “[He’s] I’m still learning to play in that crowd and sometimes do the right reading. Early in the game…he had some turnovers and some hard shots. We showed at half-time that we don’t have to accept that.”

After the game, Brown was quick to shift any recognition he might get to those around him. “We win as a team. I know the media likes to shift the narrative between certain players, but it’s a team game,” he said. “The best team will win, not the best individual player. We just have to keep playing as a team, then we’ll be fine.”

He’s right. But sometimes teams need a player who decides that in a bad moment they will become the best player in the game and do whatever it takes to make sure the best team – their team in their eyes – still doesn’t lose what can be a checkered past or neither when it comes to their clutch ability. After last night’s game, Jeff Clark of CelticsBlog reminded me of Bill Simmons’ “Table Test” which focuses on the phrase “I’m not sure if Person X brings anything to the table” but really has three legs :

  • Person X brings something to the table.
  • Person X brings nothing to the table.
  • Person X takes things off the table.

It’s only fair that, looking ahead to Brown’s fourth quarter, we add a fourth ball to the table test: Person X brings far more to the table than they take. On his best nights, this guy is Jaylen Brown. Yes, some nights Brown might be the guy who does way too much and takes things off the table. Other nights he’s underdoing – he doesn’t play nearly enough aggressively, which also results in him accidentally taking things off the table. But when Brown puts something on the table, he brings it all: a Michelin-star worthy five-course meal that he wants to share with everyone.

There are few players who can find that balance as often as Jaylen Brown when he’s in prison. That’s fair considering there are few players like Jaylen Brown when he’s a substitute.

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