Celtics Blog 2017-

Game Four.

Toughness: Part II.

By Tom Mahoney

The Celtics are still in a tough spot. The Cavs only have to win one game at Home to go up 3-1. Meanwhile, the Celtics are on a high from stepping up after their Superstar went down. The Celts have to decide if they want the bump to go for one or two games. I'm not sure Smart can do that two game in a row. He didn't in college. 

He had a game like that in college against Memphis. "He was aggressive from the beginning of the game," Bradley said about Smart. "Thatís what we needed him to be. A lot of people counted us out with Isaiah not being here, and he is a big part of this team. But Smart took this opportunity to come out and be aggressive on both ends of the floor and make plays for our team. We need Smart to play that way all the time." Where he dropped about 10 threes. 

But couldn't keep it up. "Really just coming in I just kept telling myself, 'you have nothing to lose, just go out there and play,'" Smart said. "Youíve been working hard throughout this whole year on your game. Just let it flow and let it show." So someone else is going to have to step up tonight as well. 

Everyone stepped up and played better in Game Three. "We were playing way better. I donít know how to phrase it, other than that," Stevens said. "We were playing way better. We were getting good shots on offense and playing with great purpose. On defense, I thought we were much better than the score indicated. I think when you play better, you feel better and you just kind of stay the course." The injured Isaiah was really more of a drag in the first two games, because he shouldn't have been playing because he was injured and it really showed. 

With Smart on the floor they were, and will be, better on defense. "I do think there are times guys that havenít played quite as much, thereís a real energy and desire to go out and put it all out there," Stevens said. "Sometimes you get gassed early, but heís done a good job of staying in shape and staying the course. Without Gerald, we donít win the Chicago series. Without some of our bench play in Washington, we donít win. And then Jonas tonight was a huge reason why we won." Now they have to find guys who can fill the massive offensive hole that Isaiah left, and Smart is unlikely to be able to fill completely.

I keep watching these games, and so far Jaylen Brown has been the guy who has really been stepping up defensively in far too limited minutes. "Weíve got guys that have chips on their shoulders," Stevens said. "A lot of these guys have been overlooked, and this is their first opportunity to really play a meaningful role. As theyíve continued to play and play better and better and better, theyíve just risen in their games and with our team. We knew that Friday was a 46-point disaster. Worth one. It wasnít worth all four. It was worth one. So we got back together." He has raised his game. 

He is showing he is ready to take that next step. "Itís been a great situation for us to see his growth," Stevens said. "Itís been pretty evident." Stevens keeps going back to his veterans.

I get it. "[The game] has slowed down and sped up," Brown said. "In the sense of just being ready for the role. Those type of things have sped up. The things that have slowed down are just the plays that you have to make and the defensive rotations." Stevens has to trust Brown, like he isn't a rookie anymore.

His Vets are the guys he trusts because of the track record they have together in the past. But Brown is the future. He has shown that he can step up his game in the Playoff. He has also shown that he is the only guy who can match up with LaBron athletically on defense.

For all of LaBron's incredible size, he still really is a finesse small forward. He will go and get physical sometimes when he has too. But he is at his best when he can glide over and by defenders and just do his thing. When he first came into the NBA he struggled with the rough stuff. That is why he struggled in the Playoffs for so long. 

Brown can't match up with his physicality and size, but that is not LaBron's game. LaBron is a Small Forward in a Karl Malone like body. Brown played the best defense against him so far, by far. That has to get him some more minutes in this game.

Another problem you have when the Superstar goes down is that not only is his production suddenly gone, but you also have 30 or 40-plus minutes you have to fill. "Everybody had to step up their game tonight, especially with one of our brothers down," Smart said. "Our love and support goes out to Isaiah. We wish he could be here, but we understand. We just kept fighting. Everybody did their part." Smart filled those minutes smartly. 

But Stevens needs to give more of those minutes to Brown. "Itís very rare you see a rookie playing in the Eastern Conference finals, or any conference finals," Tyronn Lue said. "Just seeing his growth over the year, heís gotten better and better each time weíve played him. Thatís from these guys developing him. Heís not scared. Heís not afraid, and thatís what you like most about young guys. They might make some mistakes, but playing against the best player in the world, heís not scared. And you can respect that." It would be unforgivable if Brown doesn't get 20 minutes of defense on LaBron. 

I'm thinking more about the future, and the HC has to think only about the win. "Our guys are itching to play," Stevens said. "Obviously, weíre here for a reason. And weíve got tough-minded, competitive guys who have largely been guys that have had to really earn their way up in this league." But Brown's defense on LaBron was better than Crowder's in game two and Game three (in very limited minutes). 

It is risky for an HC to take that chance. But Brad, wouldn't you like to know if Brown could handle 10 straight minutes of defense on LaBron in the 1st and 2nd halves for next season? Because I sure as heck would. It is Ainge's job to see to the future, and Steven's job to see to the now. But both are intermingled, and sometimes their paths cross. This is one of those times where the paths cross.

And what's true about Game 7 against the Wizards is true tonight. "Is there a better development than getting a chance to play in the playoffs?" Stevens said. "And be playing in the second round in Game Seven. And making huge plays to win a Game Seven? We usually just talk about development in terms of minutes. But going through the ups and downs of a year, especially when youíre a young guy, and taking all those good things and applying them in a game with that kind of intensity, is invaluable." Is their better development than covering LaBron on the road in the Eastern Conference Finals?

Brown has shown that he can sky with LaBron, and run backwards and sideways with him on defense better than anyone else on the Celts. "Jaylen keeps growing every game," Stevens said. "Where we really want to see growth from him is defensively. Heís a long guy who can do a lot for us. But we want to see him consistently give us quality minutes of the defensive end heading into the playoffs." He has given them quality minutes on defense in the Playoffs.

He has also shown that he is the least intimidated on defense facing LaBron. "We have to have the mindset to come out and be aggressive, no matter what the matchup is," Brown said. "The mindset was to come out and be aggressive. We have to keep fighting. We have to hit shots." He is now the better option in the now, and in the future.

Every minute he covers LaBron on defense in the Playoffs puts him a step closer to maybe becoming the Superstar Ainge thought he was when he drafted him. "It hasnít been pretty, but I donít think this team is a pretty team," Brown said. "We just kind of get it done." So this is an intersection of winning opportunity and future opportunity. 

This doesn't happen very often, and if I were the HC I wouldn't want to play the rookie ever either. "Iíve hit that rookie wall a few times but itís all mental," Brown said. "Iíve got to be locked in everyday. And be prepared to help this team. Scoring the ball. Guarding different positions. Iím ready to do whatever is needed of me." He has earned himself some minutes defensively on LaBron in the last game.

And there are some minutes available because of Isaiah's injury. "We know LeBron is going to come out even stronger than he has in games 1 and 2, but we've got to be willing to take that punch and keep fighting," Smart said. "He's going to hit some tough shots. Their whole team is going to make some tough shots. We can't let that get to us, and we've just got to keep playing and execute what Brad draws up. They're still picking us not to win, so it's going to be another test for us. Our whole philosophy throughout this playoffs is this is us versus everybody else, and that's just how we've been throughout the playoffs, and that's the team we are and that's how we play, especially with one of our better players down in IT. Everybody really got us down, so we've really got that mentality of we've just got to keep rolling." So get Brown out there on LaBron, and let him foul out of the game if needs be. 

Because maybe he can stop him a little. "He's not scared," Ty Lue said. "He's not afraid. That's what you like the most about young guys. They might make some mistakes. But playing against the best player in the world, he's not scared. And you can respect that." But either way it will pay huge dividends next season and in the future. 

At some point Steven's has to trust Brown as more than just as a rookie who doesn't know what he doesn't know, because sometimes not knowing is an advantage. "LeBronís a good player, but I look at him as just a regular guy to me," Brown said. "So Iíve got to come out and compete just like heís got to come out and compete. Iíve got to tie my shoes just like he ties his shoes. Thereís bigger threats in my neighborhood than LeBron James. So I have no fear. I have no fear whatsoever of LeBron." This is one of those spots.

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