On the Celtics’ second possession of Saturday’s Game 3 against the Heat, Boston forward Jaylen Brown caught the ball near the basket off a pick-and-roll, and he had Kemba Walker open for a 3-pointer in the near corner. Kicking out to Walker wouldn’t have been a bad choice. Walker shot 38.1 percent from beyond the arc this season.
Instead, Brown never took his eyes off the rim and powered through Goran Dragic and Duncan Robinson for the bucket.
MORE: Updated schedules for Eastern, Western Conference finals
Brown had more paint points (12) than Miami’s entire roster (10) in the first half. That early aggression set the tone for the Celtics, who avoided a 3-0 Eastern Conference finals deficit with a wire-to-wire 117-106 win.
The 23-year-old put his stamp on Game 3, finishing with 26 points (18 in the paint), seven rebounds, five assists, three steals and one block in 43 minutes. After two frustrating losses to start the series — which reportedly led to an emotional locker room outburst from Marcus Smart — Brown couldn’t wait to take the floor and be the “best version” of himself.
“To be honest, I didn’t get much sleep the last 48 hours,” Brown said. “I was so antsy to get back and play basketball. I don’t think the last two games exemplified what this team is about. So I couldn’t wait to come out and be the best version of myself and try to add to a win. I’m glad to be a part of this team and organization, and I’m proud of how we responded.”
Brown showed why he is one of the best young wings in the league, turning defense into transition offense on multiple possessions.
In the halfcourt, Brown didn’t hesitate when he saw openings. He created scoring opportunities for himself and others with hard drives.
While he isn’t an All-Star like Walker and Jayson Tatum or on an All-Defensive Team like Smart, it’s hard to overstate what a locked-in Brown means to this team. When Brown has scored 25 points or more, the Celtics are 16-1 through the regular season and playoffs.
Now the challenge for Brown and his teammates is replicating this effort and being consistent for 48 minutes. Miami refuses to make anything easy, even when its opponents seem to be in the driver’s seat. The Celtics can’t settle for a jumper when there is a lane to attack, and they can’t settle for a double-digit lead when they have the Heat on the ropes.
“Our backs were against the wall. We were down 0-2, and I think we should play like that all the time, like we’re fighting for our lives,” Tatum said.
That desperation was apparent on Saturday night. As Heat coach Erik Spoelstra put it during an in-game interview with ESPN’s Rachel Nichols, the Celtics played “with a different level of force.”
Brown was a big reason why.