If you forgot that the Warriors aren’t the fastest and most explosive team on the field anymore, let Jaylen Brown remind you. He’s here to get Stephen Curry up and take out his dodge; to chase Klay Thompson’s pieces and fly from behind to pay off his out-of-bounds bid; To drive at Draymond Green on his way to a runner. He’s here to make a great opponent act his age.
For all the adjustments that can and will be made in the NBA Finals, there is only so much that can be done to calculate the size and speed of Boston, and Brown’s adjustments specifically. Starting in Game 2, Golden State—out of a great deal of necessity—moved away from trying Thompson on Brown to get Green to defend him whenever possible. This decision choked Brown the first time, as Greene proved equal parts great, physical and hostile.
Brown responded by reviewing the tape, seeing all the match could offer him, and then working on one of the sport’s best defensive players. Whatever power Green brought to the task dissipated once Brown began to overtake him in the third game. “That’s how I play,” Brown said on Wednesday. “I feel like I can beat any defender in front of me.”
While that same mentality is largely true, it has also led the 25-year-old Celtics star to press throughout his young career and even into this playoff. (Like, say, in the middle of a Boston meltdown that nearly cost them a place in the Finals.) The fact that Brown can get where he wants on Earth makes it all the more important that he knows when Not To drive in traffic and when Not To settle for a quick jump pull. There’s a bigger game in the making, and Brown demonstrated increased mastery of it as he drove past Green in Game 3.
And some of that was fast, pure, and simple. Some, in this case, were influence.
Green is so demanded in Golden State’s broader defensive strategy, that many of his responsibilities are in direct competition with one another. His job now is to keep Brown under the covers, however if Jason Tatum has the ball on the other side of the ground, it’s also Greene’s responsibility to muster paint to clear out his drive lanes. But if Brown is involved in a screen, Draymond may have to switch to pick a different Celtic instead. Then, if the Boston greats ever lurk around the edge, it is also He usually reaches Green to challenge them inside, for the simple fact that few other warriors can do so.
Many of Brown’s attacks in Game Three came at the intersection of those commitments. Even as Green managed to help out on the inside and still recover to the ocean to exit the open 3, Brown responded by shifting his balance and driving past Draymond, taking advantage of his frantic momentum.
It is completely a reflection. Green is no stranger to playing cat and mouse in defense, but he’s usually the one to put the bait and set off on the trap. Brown and Celtics have a rare situation; It takes a serious team to put Draymond into many perilous situations and a sophisticated player to get the best of him as Brown did in Game 3.
Early in his career, [Brown] “He was going out and was running like a chicken with his head cut off,” said Marcus Smart. “We were joking with him about it. Now he’s really thinking about the game. He’s playing the game. He’s letting it come to him and he’s slowing down for him.”
It isn’t always perfect. Brown doesn’t excel at driving fast in traffic or stopping jumps for the occasional untrained jumper, as is normal for something a 20-year-old still coming on on his own. However, like the other talented wingers that preceded him, Brown learns that he is explosive enough with dribbling that he doesn’t have to rush. He could take his time, read the floor, and still skip or shoot over almost any defender the Warriors put in front of him.
This is the benefit of being Golden State’s number two priority. You don’t have to worry about getting rid of Andrew Wiggins, who blocked a jumper in Game 3 before he could fly. And the fact that it’s Green that guards him instead – against type and across positions – means that Golden State’s best back-line defender actually counts for every drive. Not only does Brown have to sort through the same layers of defense-assistance that the Warriors put between Tatum and Edge. He thrives on the opportunities created by his circumstances – as a second star who makes things as only a second star does.
“Since Ime [Udoka] “He was here, he wanted to put the ball in my hand more than at any other time in my career,” Brown said. “I made big leaps by gaining that experience and things like that. Sometimes I misread. I’m a human; I make mistakes. [But] I feel like if you put the ball in my hands, more often than not I will put ourselves in a good position to win.”
The most significant growth that Brown has shown in these playoffs has come not from any particular skill, but from a greater understanding of how to deploy the full range of his abilities. He knows there is time for turns and steps, and time for easy attack. He sees an opportunity to attack a defender one-on-one, but directs his teammates to their positions first – as he did several times in Game 3 – to get the best possible spacing. He bounced back from a 5v17 shooting night with a better understanding of the defender in front of him and the dynamics of play.
“He’s faced huge challenges this year, and he’s responding,” Alhorford said. “That’s the only thing I’ve seen with him. It’s the one thing I’m most proud of: just the way he can take on challenges, respond and execute.”
After three games, Brown leads the Celtics in scoring (B Poetry) for these finals, but not in the stills — even with Tatum serving as a facilitator more. He starts with some of his possessions in the corners, but finds dynamic ways to solve them. The Warriors changed their defensive alliance precisely in response to those kinds of threats, and Brown twisted this modification to nullify the entire Golden State scheme. In retrospect, Greene’s boisterous physicality against Brown in Game 2 feels more like a survival tactic. There are no points for hitting, catching or kicking an opponent. You do these things to get into your mind – to distract him from the fact that he has all the cards.
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