Playoffs

Celtics’ Jaylen Brown shrugs off All-NBA snub with explosive Game 2 vs. Pacers

Celtics' Jaylen Brown shrugs off All-NBA snub with explosive Game 2 vs. Pacers

BOSTON — In the third quarter of Game 2 in the Eastern Conference finals, Indiana's Pascal Siakam lobbed a pass that Pacers teammate T.J. McConnell mishandled. A moment was all Jaylen Brown needed. The Celtics star bull-rushed the ball, leaving McConnell in his wake and finishing through Siakam's foul.

As Brown stood at the stripe, chants usually reserved for Jayson Tatum filled TD Garden: "MVP! MVP!"

It was fitting recognition for Brown, who was 24 hours removed from an All-NBA snub. He scored a game-high 40 points in the 126-110 win, staking the Celtics to a 2-0 lead in a series now bound for Game 3 in Indiana.

"He cares about the right stuff, but I think stuff like that motivates him," said Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla.

Did the snub motivate Brown's playoff career high?

"We’re two games from the Finals," added Brown, "so honestly I ain’t got the time to give a f***.”

He never broached the snub with teammates at morning shootaround, but, "We all felt like, internally, that he should've made one of the All-NBA teams, so it was a shame to see that he didn't," said Tatum.

As much of a statement as Thursday was for Brown, the night could not have gone worse for Indiana's Tyrese Haliburton, whose selection to the All-NBA third team was one of several that pushed Brown from the honor this season. In that same third quarter, Haliburton reaggravated the left hamstring injury that sidelined him for 10 games earlier in the season. His status for the rest of the series remains in question.

"We'll know more tomorrow and even more Saturday," Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said in response to a question about the status of his point guard, who finished with 10 points and eight assists in 28 minutes.

Haliburton's selection to the All-NBA team puts him in line for a supermax contract, similar to the one Brown signed last summer, when he became the league's highest-paid player. The five-year, $286 million extension that Brown received was a matter of timing. He was last year's only All-NBA selection due for a new deal. The next contract signed by an All-NBA veteran (i.e., Tatum) will trump Brown's, and so on.

Still, Brown caught hell for being paid the way his brethren do, if only because outsiders do not consider him on the same level as the game's greats. He can't even dribble with his left hand, they said, and there was some truth to it in last season's Eastern Conference finals loss to the eighth-seeded Miami Heat. So what did Brown do? He improved his handle, raising his game, same as he has done for eight years now.

"I watch guys get praised and anointed I feel like are half as talented as me on either side of the ball," said Brown, "but at this point in my life I just embrace it. It comes with being who I am and what I stand for, and I ain't really changing that. And I'm grateful to step out on the floor each and every night and put my best foot forward. I get better every single year, and whether people appreciate it or not, it is what it is."

Boston Celtics star Jaylen Brown has scored 40 or more points 11 times in his NBA career with three of those coming in 2024. (Photo By Matt Stone/Boston Herald)

What a luxury Brown is for these Celtics. Tatum, an All-NBA first-teamer, struggled to start Game 2, scoring four points on eight shots in the opening half, so Boston turned to his closest facsimile. Brown scored 17 of his 40 points in the second quarter, when the Celtics opened on a 17-0 run that altered the outcome. As Indiana's defense shifted its attention from Tatum to Brown, the elder Celtics star put his improved passing on display. His two assists belied the number of opportunities his playmaking created.

"He made the right play," said Mazzulla, who expects the NBA's tracking of Brown's potential and secondary assists to better reflect the gravity of his Game 2. "That's the most important thing."

What is important about Brown is often lost in the NBA discussion. He is not Boston's primary scorer, but only 18 players averaged more than him this season. He is not Boston's primary defender, but only 13 players received more All-Defensive first-team votes than he did this season. Only Anthony Davis, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander can count themselves better than Brown in both aspects.

"I don't take that for granted," said Brown. "I keep that in perspective, regardless of what's being said or whatever the narrative or discourse is around me. I just try to come out and add value on both sides of the floor, and I feel like, when it comes to that, there's not a lot of people better in this league."

When it comes to Brown, for some reason we feel the need to point out his flaws for what we imagine he might be as the leading man on his own team, rather than recognizing how he has fit his talents into this team — a 64-win one, at that. Already second fiddle to Tatum, Brown's role diminished further when the Celtics acquired Jrue Holiday and Kristaps Porziņģis in the offseason. As easy as we might think it should be to assimilate into a star-laden squad, it is harder than we think to be just as efficient in fewer chances.

Except, that is precisely what Brown has done. His scoring may be down, but his percentages are right in line with last season, when his 26.6 points per game ranked ninth in the league. His 3.6 assists per game this season are a career high. He often assumes the responsibility of defending the opponent's best wing, lifting that responsibility from Tatum. His usage is down, and his win shares are up. That is Jaylen Brown.

All of which ignores explosiveness that is practically unparalleled.

Every new season is Brown's best, and it was all on display on Thursday. He stepped back into a 3-pointer over Indiana's Obi Toppin. He snuck behind the defense for an alley-oop. He bullied Siakam — an All-NBA talent not so easily bullied — in the paint. He split two defenders in the pick-and-roll and finished around another. He posted smaller defenders and took bigger ones out to the perimeter, only to drive by them.

"He has it going," said Holiday, who finished Game 2 with another 15 points and 10 assists. "Y'all see what I see. Great player, great leader, wants to win and takes things into his own hands. Having a guy like that on my side, I love it. I ride for him. The way JB's been playing, man, is outstanding."

All-NBA may not be in the cards for Brown this season, but Eastern Conference finals MVP is now in play.

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