The question was about his loud highlight dunks, but Jaylen Brown wanted to talk about something else.
Brown threw down three loud jams in the Celtics’ victory over the Magic on Friday night – including a one-handed poster slam over Anthony Black – but the C’s star was focused on a topic that wasn’t getting as much attention.
“I also had a couple of steals, couple of blocks,” Brown pointed out. “I’m gonna start having to run my own campaign for first team all-defense, but it’s cool. I’m really locked in on both sides of the ball, but where I’m really feeling comfortable and I feel like I’m excelling, making plays at the rim, taking the ball from people.
“And I’m doing my job and more on the defensive side, whether people want to pay attention to it or not.”
It was the second consecutive night that Brown went out of his way to bring up his defense. After Thursday’s win over the Cavaliers, he took a question about the Celtics’ team defensive versatility and lauded his own ability on that end.
“I feel like I’m playing some of the best defense of my career,” Brown said. “I made a commitment before the season, I wanted to be first team and I feel like I’ve been living up to that. I think just continuing to be the best versions of ourselves on that side of the ball, I think is going to be key for us going down in the future.”
Brown has become one of the best players in the NBA mostly on the strength of his elite scoring ability, but now in his eighth season, it’s clear he wants more credit for his defense. He’s backing up his talk.
Two plays from the weekend stood out as examples of Brown’s increased defensive focus. After his first monster dunk early in Friday’s win, Brown took a moment to flex. But then his attention quickly turned to the other side. He hustled back to the defensive end, where he met Orlando’s Mo Wagner with perfect timing at the rim for a devastating block.
On Sunday, Brown had a terrific defensive possession that may have been overlooked in the first quarter. On a second chance for the Magic, he recovered well to prevent a potential 3-pointer from Black. Moments later, as Caleb Houstan beat his man and drove into the paint, Brown had the awareness to help and deflected Houstan’s pass intended for Goga Bitadze. The ball bounced and eventually found Bitazde under the basket, but his shot attempt was blocked by Derrick White and Brown was there to smother him and finish the job, corralling the ball and then finding Jrue Holiday for a touchdown pass down the court for a layup. That highlight play wouldn’t have happened without Brown’s defense that led to it.
Brown’s defense has always been a bit overlooked but his enhanced focus seemed to begin this summer. At his press conference announcing his supermax extension, Brown made it a point to bring up how important the Celtics’ defensive identity would be after they traded Marcus Smart.
“I want to make sure that’s where we hang our hats this year and that starts with me, that starts with Jayson (Tatum), that starts with guys,” Brown said. “With Marcus gone, we don’t want our defensive identity to go out the door as well, so we have to really emphasize that at the start of training camp.”
About one-third through the season, there is a case to be made for Brown’s personally-driven All-Defensive campaign. Entering Tuesday’s game at Golden State, Brown already had 17 blocks this season, well ahead of the pace to surpass his career high of 32. He has the second-most stocks (steals + blocks) on the Celtics with 45, behind White. He’s tied with Holiday for 11th in the NBA with 3.6 defensive win shares, an advanced defensive metric tracked by the NBA. Tatum is ninth with 3.8 DWS.
Brown’s biggest competition for an All-Defensive nod, of course, may come from his own teammates. Holiday is a five-time All-Defensive selection, including a first team nod last season, White has backed up his first All-Defensive selection last season with another strong start on that end this season and Tatum has improved defensively, too. But it’s clear he’s taken greater pride in his defense this season, and has taken it upon himself to lead the league’s second-rated defensive unit.
“I think we’ve got to set the tone on defense, first and foremost,” Brown said. “We’ve got to continue to lay that as the groundwork and the foundation for success, and I think we’ve got the opportunity and the potential to be really great on that end. I think all of our guys are striving to be all-defense type of guys, and I want to be the head of that snake.”
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