Celtics Lead

Jaylen Brown is Boston’s First Round X-Factor

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The 2019 NBA playoffs are finally on the horizon. For the Boston Celtics, that sunrise looks nothing like they envisioned preseason. Beantown spiraled through perhaps the bumpiest 82 games of any NBA franchise, finally settling into the Eastern Conference’s fourth seed despite summer dreams of domination.

Still, a first round matchup with Indiana looks like an ideal confidence-builder for the C’s, who maintain the talent and depth to challenge any team in the postseason. Boston holds a mediocre 12-12 record post-All-Star break, but the Pacers are just 9-14 in that same span. Nate McMillan has admirably kept his team afloat following Victor Oladipo‘s season-ending injury, but visions of hijacking the East seem to be fading.

Boston should be able to cruise through the first round. However, the 2018-19 season has taught fans to assume nothing, especially when it comes to the Celtics. While everyone should be locked and loaded for the playoffs (except Marcus Smart), one young gun in particular has to step up on both ends to propel the squad. Jaylen Brown can be a two-way spark off the bench– if he’s ready for the challenge.

A Roller-Coaster Season

Like the Celtics, Jaylen Brown’s season also strayed from preseason expectations. After struggling out of the gate, the third-year wing was relegated to the bench in December. However, his production returned as the year went on. Since the All-Star break Brown has been impressive offensively, averaging 13.8 points per contest on 50 percent shooting while canning a remarkable 41 percent of his triples. For a player who has been hampered by an inconsistent shot throughout his career, Brown’s improvement could not come at a better time.

Brown played in three of four games against the Pacers (missing the most recent contest due to injury) and his offensive numbers are strong: 16.7 points per game, 52.8 percent shooting from the field and 36.4 percent accuracy from deep. Maintaining his shooting touch will be critical on a Celtics roster that features numerous streaky players. Brown also needs to continue attacking the rim, where his efficiency has risen this season. The 22-year-old is converting an astonishing 66% of his attempts within three feet of the hoop, a career-high rate.

Defensive Importance

However, the swingman’s defense has declined in recent stretches. According to NBA.com, Brown’s defensive rating ballooned from an elite 103 before the All-Star break to a poor 110 afterwards. Like Brown, the Celtics as a whole suffer from defensive inconsistency. They need their young guns to lock in for the playoffs, and Brown is one of the key components.

Indiana’s top offensive threat is uber-quick forward Bojan Bogdanovic. The fifth-year veteran shoots the lights out; his 42.5 percent clip from downtown ranks tenth in the Association. Bogdanovic is also one of the best in the NBA at getting open via cuts, often burning defenders with quickness for a catch-and-shoot trey or an easy layup. His basketball I.Q. is top-notch, and any defender must have their head on a swivel at all times.

Against the Celtics, Bogdanovic has been hot and cold. Most recently, Boston held the wing to just four points on a paltry 1-of-8 shooting night. But just five days earlier, Bogdanovic torched the C’s for 27 points in a narrow Celtics win. Containing Bogdanovic is critical if Boston wants a quick series.

This tasks falls largely on Jaylen Brown. Brown guards Bogdanovic on more possessions per game than any other Celtic, but has struggled mightily. Against Brown, the Pacer has shot over 85% from the field and dominated the matchup. While Jayson Tatum and Gordon Hayward will be on Bogdanovic as well, Brown becomes the primary defender when rotations start to overlap.

If Jaylen Brown can keep Bogdanovic from heating up, Indiana’s entire offense sputters. But if Bogdanovic catches fire, the Celtics could be in for a challenging series. Brown can be a spark plug offensively and a stalwart defender. His performance in the upcoming first round will play a big role in deciding the Boston’s playoff fate.

All statistics courtesy of NBA.com and Basketball Reference.

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About Ethan Fuller

Hailing from Portsmouth, NH, Ethan is a journalism student at Boston University and writes about the Celtics for TLSM. His chief basketball teams are the Celtics and Minnesota Timberwolves. Ethan is also a still-growing ultimate frisbee player.

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