BOSTON — Jaylen Brown needed just six seconds to set the tone in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals.
The Boston Celtics’ second-year guard got the opening tip from Al Horford, attacked the basket and finished at the rim to open the scoring.
“It’s the Eastern Conference finals,” Brown said. “What have we got to wait for?”
Brown certainly didn’t wait to take over the series opener, scoring 13 of his game-high 23 points (on 9-for-16 shooting) in the first quarter, while also grabbing eight rebounds and tallying one steal and one block as the Celtics earned a convincing 108-103 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday afternoon at TD Garden.
“He’s had some crazy games,” Celtics guard Terry Rozier said of Brown. “I’m not trying to say this was his most complete game, but definitely gave us a big boost. I’m not surprised at all. We know that man can score the basketball. It was a big boost for us in Game 1. We needed that.”
Brown’s only block was an emphatic one, and it led to a second-quarter bucket on the ensuing C’s possession. It was the perfect example of Brown’s impressive ability to make a positive impact at both ends of the floor.
From a scoring perspective, Brown has really improved this season, more than doubling his points per game from his rookie campaign.
He’s averaging 17.4 points in the playoffs, and he’s scored 20-plus points five times and 30-plus twice.
Brown showed most of his offensive repertoire in Game 1. He was successful from long distance (3-for-5 on 3-pointers), he attacked the basket on mismatches and used his strength to score at the rim, and he also employed an effective step-back from mid-range.
Brown shot just 21.5 percent from 3-point range in last year’s playoffs, and he’s increased that to 41.5 percent this postseason.
When potential Celtics trades for superstar players such as Anthony Davis and Kawhi Leonard are discussed, Brown often is the first name to come up.
Celtics fans don’t want to give up on rookie forward Jayson Tatum, and rightly so given his impressive scoring ability and length. But Brown is the better all-around player now and has a great chance to be the best of the two when their careers are finished.
Leonard is 26 years old, and when he’s healthy he’s arguably a top three player in the league. But he missed most of the season with a quad injury, one that didn’t improve after making his season debut in January. Brown is 21 years old, already a polished two-way player and has two more years remaining on his rookie contract — a huge bonus for a Celtics team with three max-contract players.
From a talent and salary perspective, it makes more sense for the Celtics to keep Brown long term. They wisely didn’t trade him as part of a deal for Jimmy Butler or Paul George despite countless rumors, and there’s no need for them to deal him for Leonard.
Let Brown develop and he could very well turn into the superstar player you expect a No. 3 overall draft pick to become.
Thumbnail photo via Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports