BOSTON – Jaylen Brown heard the slander.
The Celtics star took heat – and rightfully so – after going just 4-for-13 from the field with seven turnovers Sunday in Game 1 of the East semifinals against Milwaukee.
Two days later, he responded in a massive way, going off for 25 points on 9-for-10 shooting and a perfect 5-for-5 from downtown.
Oh, and that was just in the first half.
Brown’s offensive explosion over the first 24 minutes helped Boston build a 25-point advantage, and while they didn’t look as crisp down the stretch, it was enough to hold off a Bucks’ rally and knot the series at one game apiece with a 109-86 victory at TD Garden.
“We knew he didn’t have his best game (in Game 1),” Celtics head coach Ime Udoka said of Brown, who finished with 30 points, 5 rebounds and 6 assists. “(But) he’s a guy that’s always going to bounce back and play well. He’s traditionally done that when he’s had a bad game, so we expected that from Jaylen tonight. “
Everything Brown failed to do on Sunday, he executed perfectly Tuesday evening.
Did the criticism from the media and fans following his series opening struggles light his fire? Perhaps. But I’m willing to bet that he was more disappointed in himself than anything else.
And that bothersome hamstring? Non-factor.
Brown came out of the gates swinging like prime Mike Tyson. From mid-range pull-ups and step backs to long range bombs with a hand in his face, Brown was simply unstoppable.
His aggressiveness and efficiency early on not only put the Bucks on their heels, but opened things up for his teammates. After going an abysmal 18-for-50 from distance as a team in Game 1, the Celtics hit 13 trifectas in the first half alone. They finished the contest 20-for-42 from deep and 38-for-80 overall (48 percent), playing with more balance and refusing to force things offensively.
At times during the first half, the C’s ball movement rivaled that of a Tony Parker-Tim Duncan led Spurs squad. On multiple occasions they passed up a good shot for a better one, making the Bucks’ defense work even harder on every possession.
“It’s just what we saw we could’ve done better in Game 1,” added Udoka. “I loved our aggressiveness, touching the paint, attacking and kicking it out trying to get good shots.”
The second half was a different story, as Boston reverted back to some of their old ways in the halfcourt sets. They played more of a hero ball, isolation brand of basketball, undoubtedly a product of comfortability after building such a big lead.
But they made the right plays in crunch time to put Milwaukee to bed. Jayson Tatum (29 points, 8 rebounds, 3 steals) hit a big corner three with about four minutes left to make it a 15-point game just as the Bucks were inching closer, and Brown used a pretty spin move to score inside on Giannis Antentokounmpo less than a minute later.
The eventual dagger came with 1:58 to play when Grant Williams drilled his sixth triple of the evening to officially seal the deal.
Which brings me to my next point. How big was Williams? and how big has he been all season in what has been somewhat of a coming out party for the 23-year-old?
It starts on the defensive end for the 6-foot-6, 236-pounder, who isn’t going to be the biggest or tallest guy on the floor. But he’s arguably the strongest, move his feet well and plays physical without fouling. His one-on-one defense on Antentokounmpo can’t be understated, as he helped hold the two-time MVP to 11-for-27 shooting and six turnovers.
On the other end, Williams was spectacular as well – an added bonus for a team searching for shooting after a sluggish Game 1. He scored 21 points, a personal career-high for both regular season and playoff games, and hit a number of timely shots to help halt the Bucks’ surges.
With Marcus Smart out with a quad injury, Williams and Payton Pritchard were the only players to see minutes off Udoka’s bench. The 7-man rotation was surprising, but worked wonders in a game Boston desperately needed to win.
Now the Green will head back to Milwaukee with three full days off before Game 3 Saturday afternoon. If the team that dominated the first half of play on Tuesday night shows up, I like their chances. But they’ll need to string together a full 48 minutes in what can be a loud and hostile environment, especially against a very good team that will certainly be looking to bounce back in a big way on their home court.
Nick Giannino can be reached at NGiannino@Salemnews.com. Follow him on Twitter @NickGiannino_SN.