The Boston Celtics didn’t open their Eastern Conference semifinals series against the Philadelphia 76ers the way they would have liked to in Game 1, but their response in Games 2 & 3 have been superb. After blowing the Sixers off the court with a 34-point victory in Game 2, the Celtics controlled the action for much of Game 3, and took a 2-1 series lead thanks to a 114-102 victory.
After a discouraging effort to open the series, the Celtics have responded with two of their most complete performances of the season. And while Boston’s success usually starts with Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, that hasn’t exactly been the case as of late. In fact, the C’s destroyed the Sixers in Game 2 despite Tatum dropping just seven points.
Tatum led the way in Game 1 with 39 points for Boston, but over the past two games, it’s been Brown, not Tatum, who has been the steadying presence on offense for the Celtics. Leaning more with Brown than the sometimes erratic offensive presence of Tatum has paid off in a big way recently, and it is something Boston should continue to utilize as this series progresses.
Jaylen Brown has been the Celtics top option on offense so far in the NBA Playoffs
It’s been a bit of a strange postseason for Tatum, who has gone through stretches where he looks unstoppable, and others where he can’t buy a bucket. This was pretty much the story of Game 3 for Tatum, who scored ten points in the first four minutes of this game before proceeding to go cold up until the final three minutes of this game, where he buried a tough fading middie, an even tougher stepback three, and two big free throws to close out this game for Boston.
During the middle part of this game, though, Tatum was invisible. Somebody had to step up and carry the offense, and while Tatum led the C’s with 27 points, much of this win fell on the shoulders of Jaylen Brown. With the three-point shots beginning to dry up, Brown consistently attacked the Sixers at the rim, hitting a bevy of tough layups and getting to the free-throw line a team-high seven times.
Brown goes through stretches where he has virtually no involvement in the offense, with the second half of Game 1 being one of those instances. Boston has made a bigger effort to get Brown involved consistently in the ensuing two contests, and he’s been exactly what the Celtics need. When the C’s get too intent on living or dying by the three, Brown finds a way to bully his way to the rim or create a high-percentage midrange jumper for himself.
The Celtics insistence on relying on Tatum, despite all the attention he draws, has been something that has killed them in the past, and many fans have urged the team to rely on Brown, who often gets advantageous matchups in these scenarios, for offensive production. Brown has been surgical offensively throughout the playoffs to this point, averaging 25.7 points per game on a ridiculous 54.5 percent shooting from the field.
The balance between Tatum and Brown is something Boston has struggled with before, but it seems like they are reaching a perfect balance against Philadelphia. Brown found himself in foul trouble late in this game, which is precisely when Tatum decided to take over and put this game to rest. It wasn’t the prettiest game from either guy, but their ability to work off of each other is reaching an all-time high.
However, Brown’s emergence as the guy to go to when Boston needs a bucket is huge. As we saw above, he’s hitting an extremely high percentage of his takes, and the Sixers are basically daring him to score on them. They are playing P.J. Tucker as their primary defender on Tatum when he’s on the floor, and then doubling him with another defender at times too. Brown already is getting guarded by a lesser defender, and he has had no problem hunting matchups when he wants them either.
Given how effective Brown has been to this point, there’s no reason for Boston to not continue to ride his steady scoring as their primary option. Tatum is still going to be the focal point of this offense, but Brown is continuing to prove that he doesn’t necessarily need Tatum in order to be successful. It certainly helps to not have the attention that Tatum has, but Brown is still dicing Philadelphia at will on offense right now.
For the Celtics, this is a trend that must continue. Brown has been the guy (on both sides of the ball, really) that is allowing the Celtics to play some of their best basketball of the season. And even then, there are still areas to this team’s game where they aren’t necessarily operating at their full capacity. Boston has finally found the perfect mix when it comes to allowing Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown to go to work, and they will need to continue to utilize this gameplan as they move forward in this series against the Sixers.
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