Cal Basketball: How Jaylen Brown and the Celtics Revived Unity in the Bubble

Jaylen Brown drives toward the basket through two defenders.Photo by Kim Klement, USA Today

Jeff Faraudo

This NBA Eastern Conference finals series had suddenly taken on a tabloid flavor for Jaylen Brown and the Boston Celtics.

If they lost Game 3 on Saturday night to fall behind the Miami Heat 3-0, they would have entered never-never land in the NBA postseason. As in, never has a team rallied from a 3-0 hole to win a playoff series in the league.

And the explosive aftermath of Game 2 was going to be what fans remembered. The season would be reduced to 20 minutes of screaming in the locker room, with Brown and teammate Marcus Smart, in particular, singled out as the antagonists who shredded team chemistry.

Instead, Brown and his teammates got things sorted out in the 48 hours before Game 3, then scored a wire-to-wire 117-106 victory over the Heat on Saturday night that provides promise this will be an enduring and entertaining series. Game 4 is Wednesday.

The Celtics, who blew leads of 14 and 17 points in the first two games, could be up 3-0. What matters is they aren’t down 3-0.

Here’s how Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe summed it up:

The Celtics were patient, unselfish, and aggressive. Jaylen Brown attacked the middle of that daunting Miami zone with vigor. He put his imprint on the game from the outset, as if he was anxious to atone for the team’s Game 2 meltdown.

Brown, the 23-year from Cal, was in the middle of everything.

His stat line: 26 points on 11-for-17 shooting, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals and a blocked shot that triggered a fastbreak basket. It was Brown's eighth career playoff game of at least 25 points.

After late-night talks with his coach and his teammates, Brown fully understood what was at stake in this one. Not only could another loss torpedo a great season, it would leave a stain on the image of everyone involved. They would be remembered for their worst moments of a long and trying season.

“To be honest, I didn’t get much sleep the last 48 hours. I was so antsy to get back and play basketball,” Brown said afterward. “I don’t think the last two games exemplify what this team is about. So, I couldn’t wait to come out and be the best version of myself and try to add to a win.

“And I’m glad to be a part of this team and this organization, and I’m proud of how we responded.”

Brown has worked all season to be about more than himself, on and off the court. His efforts on the social justice front have made him a leader among NBA players.

And even immediately after Game 2’s locker-room dustup, Brown tried find calming words in his visit with reporters. He talked about the team coming together, and how he embraces playing on a team that is young and emotional.

Mostly, he offered an olive branch to Smart, with whom he reportedly had to be separated after Smart lashed into teammates for squandering another lead.

“That’s why we love Marcus. He plays with passion. He’s full of fire and that’s what I love about him most, to be honest,” Brown said after Game 2. “He has that desire and that will and we need him to continue to have that. There’s ups and downs with families all the times but we embrace each other with who we are. Who Marcus is, I love him for it.”

Smart was aggressive but controlled and efficient in Game 3, posting 20 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists. He shot 10-for-10 from the free throw line and scored the Celtics’ final 10 points.

From the outset, it was Brown who helped set the tone. He scored 17 points in the first half as Boston built a 13-point lead.

ESPN analyst Mark Jackson was impressed. “I’ll tell you what, Jaylen Brown is an underrated basketball player. I love his energy and the way he attacks.”

ESPN reported that Brown got an emotional lift from the presence of his mother, Mechalle, who was able to be at the arena in the bubble after clearing the 14-day quarantine. When Jaylen greeted his mom for the first time in weeks, he gave her a hug that lasted nearly a minute, ESPN said.

Brown suggested the abnormal experience of players being cooped up for weeks at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, adds to an already stressful playoff setting.

“Like, we are in a bubble. There’s a lot of grown men. There’s a lot of passion and emotion going on,” he said. “But at the end of the day, we’re a family. We represent this organization. We represent each other and we won’t ever let anything come in between that.

“We’ve got a tremendous opportunity and we understand that and nothing’s going to stop us from trying to maximize that.”

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*** Doris Burke continues to make history as an NBA analyst: 

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Follow Jeff Faraudo of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jefffaraudo

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