Jaylen Brown brings key ingredient to Boston Celtics’ victory over Denver Nuggets
Boston Celtics swingman Jaylen Brown made one of the greatest offensive jumps of any NBA player this season, but his vision for the pitch is one area where there is still plenty of room for improvement. This fact was exposed during a tumultuous week for the Celtics which capped a 5-10 slip in the last 15 games leading up to Tuesday night’s game with the Denver Nuggets.
Since returning from a two-game absence with knee pain, Brown had reverted to old troubling habits with the ball. In his last four games, he had only collected three assists in total before Tuesday, including three games (in Utah, against Detroit, Washington) in which he had received no total assists. That’s a far cry from his average of 3.4 assists per game this season.
While Brown struggled to find teammates with the pass, the same could be said of the Celtics’ ball movement as a whole. They have recorded assists totals over the season in the last two games (15 to Detroit, 14 to Washington), leading to a pair of ugly losses against the two worst teams in the Eastern Conference.
That drop led to renewed interest in Brown and the team ahead of Tuesday’s tilt with the Nuggets.
“That’s what we basically talked about this morning,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said of the movement of the ball.
Despite a very slow offensive start, Brown and the Celtics reverted to their selfless ways in a 112-99 win, totaling 26 assists, the team’s sixth-highest total in a game this year.
“The ball moved right out of the gate, even though we weren’t shooting in the first two minutes, the ball was jumping like it didn’t,” said Stevens. “We rewarded the guys for running more than we did in the last few weeks and we rewarded the guys for the cup.
“It’s a big part of team building and making the right play and everything in between. So I was encouraged by that, but these games are coming in flurry, this stretch is amazing, so we don’t have time to think about what just happened. We just have to turn our attention and try to do it again tomorrow night.
Much like the Boston record, their ball movement has been up and down all season depending on the night. However, there are few better indicators of the team’s success right now than how they are sharing the ball with each other. The Celtics improved to 7-1 during the season when they distributed 25 or more assists, a sign that the improvement from their average of 22.0 assists per game during the season (28th in the NBA) could be the key to continued success.
Brown’s role in this equation is also immense as a central part of the offense. With teams continually crashing down on him in the lane and going around screens, his ability to find the open man can turn tough shots for him into great shots for his teammates. He returned to that mentality in this game after playing 64 minutes in the last two games without distributing a single assist. Against the Nuggets, he registered 27 points and five assists. Boston improved to 5-1 over the course of the season when it hit that threshold of over five assists.
“It’s something that we just have to keep being consistent,” Brown said. “I’m a big part of it, just learning and growing. Obviously it’s a new role for me and a lot of new roles for the guys on this team, and we’re still learning and understanding 25, 26 games, but we’re still learning, making adjustments. Teams protect us differently, just trying to learn and grow on the fly. “
With Marcus Smart out of the roster with a calf injury for at least a few weeks and Kemba Walker has yet to return to his All-Star allure, the blame will continue to fall on Brown and Jayson Tatum (eight assists against the Nuggets ) to make their teammates better as one of the best distributors of Boston (Smart) watches aside. Brown did his fair share of mistakes trying to take on this role (seven turnovers), but a lot of those mistakes came on passes with good intentions in mind.
The commitment to the pass in Tuesday’s win also did wonders for Boston’s supporting players. Alternate playmaker Payton Pritchard (seven assists) set the tone for a tightened Celtics bench rotation that featured more athleticism and wing versatility with Javonte Green and Aaron Nesmith. The end result was 30 out of 11 out of 17 FG points, one of the reserves’ most effective performances all year round as the guys made the extra pass all night to find easy looks.
“Just take each other, man,” Rob Williams said of the Second Unit mentality. “Do not fall into selfish ways. Don’t fall into your own mind. Always stay with each other, always promote positivity. “
A win over an understaffed Nuggets team (five rotating players were out with injury) might not mean much in the long run, but it reminded Brown and the Celtics how to be the best version of themselves. Selflessness leads to success in the NBA.
“It’s great, we need wins like that,” Brown said. “Some wins against good opponents that get us on fire and things like that, because it can continue into the next game and stuff like that. So today was a great victory. Let’s see if we can take advantage of it. “