BOSTON – The Boston Celtics made some noise off the court during Tuesday night’s Draft lottery as they were awarded the No. 1 pick in the upcoming 2017 NBA Draft. Meanwhile, last year’s lottery selection was quietly working on his game behind closed doors.
Jaylen Brown, the No. 3 overall pick from the 2016 Draft, hit the gym at the team’s training facility to hoist up shots into the wee hours of the morning as he prepared for the biggest game of his life.
Brown’s late-night shootaround paid off less than 24 hours later, as he put together a career performance during the opening game of the Eastern Conference Finals.
The 20-year-old rookie came off the bench Wednesday night against the Cleveland Cavaliers and tallied 10 points to go along with a career-high nine rebounds. Unfortunately, he was one of the lone bright spots for the Celtics as they fell 117-104; however, based on his impact, it is clear that he could play a key role in this series.
“He played well tonight,” teammate Jae Crowder said after the game. “We went small, and he was a key factor in being able to switch and play against everybody on their team on the perimeter. I feel like he’ll be key moving forward in Game 2. I think he brings a lot of athleticism to our team, and we’re going to use it against these guys.”
The biggest tool that Crowder mentioned is Brown’s athleticism. The Cal-Berkeley product is arguably the greatest athlete of his draft class, and that quality was on full display during his high-energy performance against the Cavs.
Having such athleticism is essential when going up against the likes of LeBron James, whom Brown guarded admirably when assigned to do so.
“It’s very evident that athletically he’s just a special athlete,” C’s coach Brad Stevens said of Brown. “He can do things that other guys can’t do, whether it’s offensive rebounding or getting to the basket or whatever the case may be. We need some of those things, so I would expect him to continue to play a large role for us in this series.”
It’s quite an expectation to have on a young man who graduated from high school less than two years ago. That being said, it’s also a realistic expectation based upon Brown’s growth over the course of his rookie season.
It’s also a realistic expectation considering the way Brown performed Monday night during Game 7 against the Washington Wizards. With Boston’s season on the line, the young forward stepped in and knocked down three big shots that helped propel the C’s past Washington and into the Conference Finals.
Showing such poise on the big stage of the postseason is a telltale sign of Brown’s rapid maturation.
“Is there a better development than getting a chance to play in the playoffs and playing in the second round, Game 7, and making huge plays, then winning Game 7?” Stevens suggested before Wednesday’s tip-off. “To me, going through the ups and downs of a year, we usually just talk about development in terms of minutes, but going through the ups and downs of a year, especially when you’re a young guy, and then taking all those good things and applying them in a game with that kind of intensity is invaluable.”
An hour and 45 minutes after Stevens posed that thought, the rook went out and did it again.
The Celtics did not come up victorious this time around, but Brown’s promising efforts reminded us how bright Boston’s future is with him as a building block. And don’t forget about that draft pick coming up, because that future is about to get a whole lot brighter.