INDIANAPOLIS – Jaylen Brown has promised that there’s more to his game than he’s shown, and Friday night the young Celtics wing tossed a firecracker onto the floor in the guise of three 3-pointers in the first quarter of the Celtics Game 3 win over the Pacers.
Though the Celtics wouldn’t remain hot, Brown set an early tone for them on his way to 23 points on 8-for-9 shooting, including four 3-pointers. He became the first Celtic since Raef LaFrentz on April 23, 2005 (also against Indiana) to score at least 20 points on 88 percent shooting.
“It’s just every game varies, every game is different,” said Brown. “Game 1 was much different from Game 3. So I just try to be locked in and be aggressive when I’m out there. Things are going to change, lineups are going to be switched around. Just try to come out and be aggressive and tonight some shots happened to fall.”
When Kyrie Irving talks of being the man who can pull the Celtics through the playoff gauntlet, he’s drawing on one of the greatest moments in NBA playoff history – his game-winning 3-pointer over Steph Curry in Game 7 of the 2016 Finals.
He made the shot in Oracle Arena. No shot, taken in a hostile arena, could be bigger.
“It’s definitely one of those experiences and memories that sticks with me, it’ll stick with me for the rest of my career just because of obviously the circumstances we were under,” Irving said during yesterday’s shootaround. “We had really nothing to lose at that point. We were down 3-1 and just went out and just really accomplished something bigger than ourselves.”
Irving is now trying to show his teammates how to accomplish something bigger.
“I just try to take that experience and give it to my teammates of what Indiana’s going to be like, of what the road’s going to be like, especially in the playoff atmosphere,” he said. “I’m going to make some mistakes. We’re all going to make some mistakes. But it’s always about the most important thing and that’s staying together. I’ve talked about it throughout the season but a 14-point lead in the playoffs can be erased in a matter of three minutes, just waiting for the other team to get undisciplined or they get comfortable or they think that the game is over. You’re always in the game if you stay together.”
The Celtics returned to the postseason road Friday night with the knowledge that their average regular season road record (21-20) was a reflection of last year’s 1-7 playoff road record. And yet they came within one game of reaching the finals.
“I just think that it’s all about the mentality,” Irving said of winning on the road in the playoffs. “It’s just another game, different hoops, same basketball. Just try to minimize whatever the fears may be of just coming out here and doing your job. It’s not about the crowd, it’s not about anything else. It’s about the guys that we’ve got on the bench and just staying very positive wherever the game may be. It can fluctuate so much, so just staying the course and just staying patient.”
As much as Gordon Hayward has marveled over the Garden crowd’s playoff presence, he understands that the Celtics now have to learn to survive without that emotional support.
“We gotta stay together, they’re going to make runs, the crowd’s going to be into it,” said Hayward. “That’s one thing that helped us out in coming back last game was our crowd. We were able to hit a couple shots and the crowd gets right back into it and gives you a little boost of energy. On the road you don’t have that and you’re fighting against it. We have to stay together.”
Yes, the Celtics’ road personae is a painful subject.
“What was our record on the road? It wasn’t very good,” said Brad Stevens. “I don’t know about comfortable. I don’t think you’re ever comfortable. You shouldn’t be comfortable. It’s good to be uncomfortable. I like being uncomfortable. I hope that we feel that way the whole game, that we have to make sure we are on edge and ready to roll each possession, because every possession matters that much more. I mean, you watch the playoffs, come backs happen like that. Regardless, every possession matters.”
Back to normal
Al Horford’s one-night bout with the flu, which he followed up with a 37-minute appearance in Game 2 Sunday, turned out to be fortunately short. He was back to normal yesterday.
“Turns out when you play 16 straight minutes it cures all that ails you,” said Stevens. “It must have just been a one-night, maybe something he ate, I don’t know. But he’s feeling pretty well.”