The Boston Celtics have unquestionably played some of the best basketball in the league over these past few months and are now just two wins away from winning the NBA title.
Much has been said about their turnaround that saw them rise from a 16-19 record to finish the regular season with a 51-31 slate that was enough to clinch the second seed in the Eastern Conference.
Their postseason run leading up to the NBA Finals has been just as impressive. They kicked it off with a sweep of the star-studded Brooklyn Nets followed by back-to-back seven game series wins over the reigning champion Milwaukee Bucks and the top seeded Miami Heat.
Throughout this stretch, Jayson Tatum has understandably garnered most of the attention. The 24-year-old forward has taken the lead for this team as he has evolved into a much more well-rounded player with a legitimate case to be considered one of the ten best in the NBA today.
Marcus Smart has also received his due after he was named this year’s NBA Defensive Player of the Year which marked the first time since 1996 that a guard won the highly-coveted award.
The inspired play of 36-year-old veteran Al Horford, finally playing in the NBA Finals after a record 141 career playoff games, has also received its fair share of coverage especially during these past few weeks.
With the spotlight on his teammates for most of this year, Boston’s one-time NBA All-Star guard Jaylen Brown has largely flown under the radar. After a slow start to the season due to a hamstring injury forced him to miss more than his fair share of games, he gradually regained his form and is now peaking at the most opportune time for the Celtics.
Brown has been head coach Ime Udoka’s best player through the first three games of the NBA Finals and is one of the biggest reasons why they have secured a 2-1 lead over the Golden State Warriors. He is averaging a team-high 22.7 points per game along with 7.3 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 0.7 steals, and 0.7 blocks.
After Brown’s 24-point outing in Boston’s Game 1 win, Golden State shifted Draymond Green onto him for Game 2. Green contributed heavily in limiting him, with the help of his trademark antics, into a poor five-of-17 shooting night as the Warriors tied up the series.
Clearly bothered by the boisterous Green in their Game 2 loss, Brown refocused and came out looking like a man on a mission in Game 3. He opened the match with 17 points in the first quarter as Boston raced out to an early double digit lead.
Once prone to settling for mid-range jumpers, Brown persistently attacked the basket with force and made Green look nothing like the player that won the league’s top defensive plum five years ago.
The 25-year-old Brown played his best game of the NBA Finals so far in Game 3. He was a menace on both ends of the floor as his size as a 6’6 guard with a 223 lbs frame continues to be a difficult match-up for Golden State’s smaller group.
Brown wound up with 27 points on nine-of-16 shooting, four threes, nine rebounds, five assists, and one crucial block with less than five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. As Klay Thompson caught the ball off a nifty give-and-go and gathered for a lay-up, Brown quickly recovered and swatted the ball off the backboard in the most emphatic way possible.
The Warriors were already down by 14 at that point and were trying to mount a rally, but Brown’s athletic stop completely quelled any hope of a Golden State comeback.
The public has finally taken notice of Brown on the biggest possible stage and it has helped him garner momentum for a possible NBA Finals Most Valuable Player Award. After three games, he is currently leading the Finals MVP race ahead of Stephen Curry and Tatum.
While winning the championship is clearly the focus for this team, winning this award would do wonders in shaping the narrative for the rest of Brown’s career. Long viewed as the second fiddle to Tatum, winning this prestigious recognition may help him be viewed as more of an equal moving forward.
Though having two stars of similar stature has historically been disruptive, Brown and Tatum have aged into a mature relationship, much to the Celtics’ delight, where all reports indicate that they respect one another’s on-court abilities.
They seem to have looked past the media’s potentially disruptive “Whose team is it?” narrative, at least for the moment, and are in prime position to win their franchise’s first title since 2008.
Slowly but surely, Brown and Tatum are beginning to look reminiscent of another young and dynamic wing pairing that won their first of six titles in 1991 against an aging Western Conference powerhouse.
However, before they can start daydreaming about building a potential dynasty, they first have to take care of business and win two more games versus a Warriors team that does not know how to quit. For all the great things that Brown has done so far in these NBA Finals, they will be all for naught if Boston does not emerge from this series clutching the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy.