Just seconds into Game 1, Jaylen Brown wanted to set the tone for the Celtics first-round series against the Hawks, and hopefully, the rest of what Boston believes will be a long playoff run. Right after the tip, Brown stole a routine pass from Trae Young to Dejounte Murray and then overpowered John Collins on the other end.
“I was going crazy in my head. I was screaming like, ‘there you go. That’s what I’m talking about,’” Marcus Smart said of Brown’s statement play. “Jaylen can do a lot of things, not just score the ball. He’s a great two-way player and we’re going to need that out of him. And to see how he was locked in and ready to go, it was exciting.”
He’s still wearing a mask after a friendly fire elbow from Jayson Tatum over two months ago, but as strong as he’s played over the last two months, maybe it’s here to stay. Brown would finish the game as Boston’s high scorer with 29 points (12-of-23 from the field) and three assists.
After missing the final two games of the regular season with a land laceration, he picked up right where he left off. After leading Team LeBron in scoring in the All-Star Game, Brown mounted an All-NBA campaign in the final 20-plus games averaging 27 points and over six rebounds and four assists a game.
Brown admitted after the Game 1 win that his finger is still an issue. “It’s a constant adjustment making sure I get a good grip on the ball,” Brown said. “I had six turnovers tonight, so I definitely got to clean that up.” During the game, he left for the locker room briefly when the cut split open. He received five stitches on the finger and missed practice during early postseason prep.
“He was trying to figure out how to play with it at first. He had to change his Bandaid, I believe,” head coach Joe Mazzulla said. “I thought he played well. I thought his shot selection was good. I thought he was intentional on the defensive end. I thought he did a great job on being locked in on both ends of the floor.”
It had been 303 days since the Celtics lost Game 6 of The NBA Finals on the parquet floor. That playoff run is officially in the rearview with this postseason now in full swing. It took an 82-game marathon of a regular season to get here and this team knows all too well that one steal is just a steal and one win is just a win.
“Each game is its own story. We expect to get their best shot next game. Can’t take a team for granted,” Brown said. “We allowed them to get a little more comfortable in the second half. I expect the next game for them to be a little more prepared, so we got to be a little more prepared as well.”
What will hopefully be a constant throughout these next few weeks and months is their mindset. After a few speedbumps tripped them up during the year (that ultimately cost them the overall #1 seed), Brown understands the urgency of the moment.
“It’s a great time of the year. It’s the time we’ve been thinking about, waiting around for. It was extremely important to set the tone here on our home floor opening up the playoffs. I thought we got off to a great start in the first half. Second half, we took our foot off the gas a little bit, but we just gotta continue and play basketball for 48 minutes and continue to build good habits throughout the playoffs.”