Celtics rookie Jaylen Brown on playoff experience: 'It's a blessing'

BOSTON -- Boston Celtics rookie Jaylen Brown had been on his backside just moments earlier after coming up empty while diving to pick off a pass in front of the Washington Wizards' bench.

Teammate Terry Rozier had scrambled over to prevent Brown's man from driving and, after Rozier deflected a pass, the ball seemed to be hovering above the sideline. Brown, now back on his feet, had a second chance to secure the turnover he had been seeking.

Brown leaped and, with one hand, corralled the ball before it reached Washington's bank of assistant coaches. Hanging in the air, Brown looked upcourt, spotted Avery Bradley sprinting the other way, and tossed the ball with so much zip that he nearly overthrew Bradley, who managed to haul it in at the opposite 3-point line and then raced in alone for a two-handed jam.

On the Boston bench, Isaiah Thomas started excitedly stomping in Brown's direction while screaming words of encouragement. These are the sort of glimpses of Brown and his obvious athleticism that leave teammates gushing about his potential.

So it was notable when, after Boston's lopsided victory in Wednesday's Game 5, Al Horford twice offered unsolicited praise of Brown and his efforts in a pivotal playoff battle. Brown's playing time has been inconsistent this postseason, but he has typically made a positive impact when called upon, especially in this Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Wizards.

The Celtics lead the best-of-seven series 3-2 and can close out the Wizards with a victory in Game 6 on Friday night in Washington (ESPN, 8 p.m. ET).

Brown was the first player off the bench for Boston on Wednesday night and, while he didn't score, he finished plus-17 over 26 minutes, 11 seconds of playing time and made an impact on both ends of the court.

"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. "I think that he sustained the intensity that we had. I felt like he had a great game."

Brown still is prone to rookie moments, and fouling Wizards center Ian Mahinmi -- a 30-year-old paint-dwelling big man who hasn't made a 3-pointer in nine NBA seasons -- on a desperation heave on the final play of the third quarter Wednesday was a prime example. But for every head-slapping moment that leaves coach Brad Stevens imploring Brown to play smarter (and considering a quick hook), there are these snapshots that suggest the 20-year-old Brown, the No. 3 pick in last year's draft, has a very bright future.

That Brown is one of only a few lottery picks from last year's draft to log any playoff minutes this season resonates with the young swingman.

"Man, it's a blessing. Like, who would have thought?" Brown said. "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. [In Game 5], I just came in and wanted to give my team good energy, and we got the win tonight."

Consider this: The Celtics own a defensive rating of 94.6 during Brown's 69 minutes of floor time this series. That's the best number on the team and by a noticeable margin. (Rozier is a still-stellar 99.1 and is nearly 4.5 points worse than Brown.) Boston's defensive rating for the series is 110.1.

According to ESPN Stats & Information research, Brown had limited Washington defenders to 28.6 percent shooting (4-of-14) and 12 points over 17 total plays through the first four games of the series. Synergy Sports data suggests Brown is allowing 0.783 points per play this series, a number that, if maintained, would rank him behind only Bradley on the Celtics this postseason.

"Jaylen Brown, defensively, was great for us [in Game 5]," Horford said. "He was locked in and, I know there were a couple plays there, they were mistakes, but besides that he played a really good game defensively."

When Boston struggled during Games 3 and 4 in Washington, some fans clamored for Brown to get injected into the starting lineup. Stevens resisted the urge to tinker, electing to stick with Boston's most common starting five and Amir Johnson. But the uptick in playing time on Wednesday suggests that Stevens is willing to lean on Brown in key reserve minutes, even in maybe the most important game of the season.

Stevens has been measured with his praise of Brown while asserting he would have faith in him when called upon. If it often seems as though Stevens is harder on Brown than others, it may be because he sees the potential.

Asked about Brown's Game 5 performance, Stevens said simply, "I thought he played a very solid game."

That might not sound like a rave review. But, for this rookie, that's solid praise.