Tomase: Jaylen Brown called out LeBron James and then backed up his words

John Tomase
May 13, 2018 - 10:05 pm
Jaylen Brown

Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports

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"He'd better be alert, because if he's not, I'm going to get it going. You've got to make him work on both sides of the ball. Usually he's guarding the least-offensive threat on the floor, so if he's guarding me, I'm going to make him pay."

-- Jaylen Brown to the Boston Globe's Adam Himmelsbach before the Eastern Conference Finals

Jaylen Brown did not lack confidence entering Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals, but it appeared he lacked sense.

The subject of the above quote was Cavaliers star LeBron James, the greatest player of this generation and maybe ever. What an optimist saw as moxie a realist saw as ARE YOU KIDDING?!? ME DON'T POKE THE KING!!!

"Yeah, I was surprised to hear him say that," admitted teammate Marcus Smart with a broad smile. "But you know, that's how we all feel. We've played against guys bigger than us our whole lives and we've been the underdog and this is nothing new to us."

To say the young Celtics are feeling it at the moment would be an understatement in the extreme. With two series wins under their belt and a clearly established identity in the absence of star Kyrie Irving -- tough, composed, selfless, relentless -- the C's fear no one.

And so it was that Brown took the court on Sunday and not only backed up his words, but made them sound measured, understated and humble.

This one wasn't a game for very long, and Brown made it that way. He roared out of the gates with 13 points and five rebounds in the first quarter while wearing a look that said, "I'm not bleeping around."

"It's the Eastern Conference Finals," he said. "What have we got to wait for?"

He took the opening tip right to the rim for a finger roll and didn't stop attacking. He drilled a turnaround jumper and sank a tear-drop floater. He scored on another drive and flexed in disbelief as the Cavs called timeout. He drilled a long 3-pointer that made it 32-11.

He finished with a team-high 23 points and eight rebounds, but those numbers hardly convey just how aggressively he twisted the game to his will.

"Their momentum and what they wanted to do started right from the tipoff," James said. "(Al) Horford tipped it right to Jaylen Brown, it looked like we had two on him, and next thing you know he's getting a layup. Right off the tip. So that sort of set the tone right there."

The LeBron Effect can be devastating. Just ask the Raptors, who showed too much deference to James and got swept. The Celtics don't play that way. "We have a lot of guys that just don't care," Smart said. "Playing LeBron and that Cavs team is great -- they've been here for a reason. We have talent as well. We're fearless."

Smart was asked how well that word describes Brown.

"Down to the T," he said. "You know Jaylen, you know he talks a lot of trash. He don't care who you are. It's no surprise that he comes out and does what he does and has no fear and no remorse about it. We've just all got to have that and keep it in us."

On one sequence in the second quarter, Brown soared to reject Kevin Love before Marcus Morris dove into the seats to keep the ball in play. Brown went the other way, passed up a contested shot to improve his position, and drilled a long jumper that brought the house down. The Cavaliers trudged back on offense, their fight gone.

Brown wouldn't say it after the game, choosing his words carefully and respectfully, but it sure felt like the Celtics had just sent the Cavs a powerful message.

"I wouldn't say that," Brown said. "We were just playing basketball. We're looking forward to Game 2. We stayed together. We were the more connected team. If we continue to stay together, we'll be fine."

A year ago Brown barely played a role in the conference finals loss to the Cavs. He averaged nine points and only played eight minutes in the series finale. Whatever promise he flashed felt years away from being realized.

So much for that. Brown's time has arrived, he's not afraid of LeBron James, and the Celtics suddenly find themselves three games from a berth in the NBA Finals.

Brown talked it, and then he walked it. Can't wait to see what he's got planned for the encore.

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