By Brian Robb, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — It did not take long for Jaylen Brown to learn how little margin for error exists in NBA playoff basketball.
The 20-year-old was the first man off the bench for Brad Stevens in Game 2 of Boston’s first round series against the Chicago Bulls back in April. In that stint, the swingman bricked a pair of 3-point shots and allowed Nikola Mirotic to get free for a couple easy buckets in just two minutes, forcing Stevens to send him to the bench immediately. Brown did not see the chance for meaningful minutes again until the Bulls series came to an end.
Stevens has always kept his young players in the pros (outside of Marcus Smart) on a bit of a tight leash, which is understandable as he tries to perform the balancing act between development and winning. The head coach has always insisted that Boston’s youth will also have to earn their minutes, something that Brown was able to do right from training camp this year.
While Stevens turned to more experienced options (Gerald Green, Jonas Jerebko) as the Bulls series progressed, he wasn’t afraid to turn give Brown one more pivotal chance at the start of the Wizards series. After sitting for 42 straight minutes on the bench to start the game, the No. 3 overall pick got the call in crunch time with both Smart and Terry Rozier struggling.
The 6-foot-7 forward helped Boston close out the win in Game 1 with five points and steady defense in his six minutes, proving something to his teammates along the way.
“Obviously you have to be locked in to sit for two-and-a-half hours and come in and contribute,” Jae Crowder said of Brown’s play. “He was locked in. That’s playoff type basketball. He was locked in, ready to go. And it’s kudos to him. Just staying locked in, and when his number’s called, just stepping up to the plate. He did a great job.”
More importantly for Brown, that performance helped him earn back some trust from Stevens that he lost in the Bulls series. That reality has boded well for the C’s chances against the Wizards as an athletic and versatile wing by Brown is something desperately needed against Washington’s high-powered offensive attack.
Brown has played regular rotation minutes in every contest this series against Washington except Game 4, a questionable decision that Stevens flipped on in Game 5. He played Brown a postseason career-high 26 minutes in the blowout win. The small forward came up empty in the scoring column on 0-of-3 shooting but played an all-around productive contest (3 rebounds, 2 assists, a block and a steal) that helped give him the highest plus-minus (+17) on the Celtics bench.
“Nobody’s going to talk about him, but Jaylen Brown, his energy, defensively what he brought in the first and second quarter, were huge for us,” Horford said after the win. “I think that he sustained the intensity that we had. I felt like he had a great game.”
A look around the NBA postseason box scores right now makes it hard to find any with rookies playing meaningful minutes. There are a few exceptions (Davis Bertans in San Antonio), but no one as young as Brown (20) has found himself playing such a significant role in a deep postseason run. That fact alone has made Brown appreciative of the opportunity he has earned.
“Man, it’s a blessing. Like, who would have thought?” Brown said after Game 5. “Last year, I was going into the draft, and now I’m here with the Celtics with a chance to close out a Game 6 and go to the Eastern Conference finals, man. I’ll take that any day over going to a team and playing 30, 35-plus minutes or whatever the case may be. I’m happy I’m in a role where I’m contributing to a team.”
While other members of the 2016 rookie class will be getting more individual accolades (thanks to additional minutes on inferior teams) than Brown at the end of this season, the small forward’s experience in the playoffs gives him a crucial edge for his overall growth. No matter how the Celtics postseason ends in the next few weeks, that’s a development that Danny Ainge, Stevens and rest of the Boston front office will be left smiling about.
Brian Robb covers the Celtics for CBS Boston and contributes to NBA.com, among other media outlets. You can follow him on Twitter @CelticsHub.