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Jaylen Brown's commitment to defense is a game-changer for Celtics

Jaylen Brown's commitment to defense is a game-changer for Celtics originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

Jaylen Brown’s season-long quest to earn All-Defense consideration got thrust back into the spotlight over the weekend.

After watching Pelicans big man Zion Williamson dominate the opening frame Saturday, Brown took on the challenge of making him work for his points the rest of the night. The results? Williamson generated just three points on 1-of-6 shooting with three turnovers over a game-high seven minutes, 15 seconds of matchup time with Brown as the primary defender, per NBA tracking.

Brown was the primary defender on Williamson for 56.7 percent of his floor time, with no one else on the Celtics going north of 19.9 percent. Brown got whistled for a couple of shooting fouls but offered firm resistance when Williamson tried to navigate to the basket.

And, aided by backline help from Kristaps Porzingis, the Celtics bottled up Williamson better while putting on a defensive clinic in the middle quarters.

The Celtics own the third-best defense in the NBA, allowing 110.7 points per 100 possessions. They had been entrenched at No. 2 behind Minnesota until a recent slip that saw Orlando leapfrog them.

Even with one of the NBA’s better defenses, Brown might struggle to get All-Defense consideration, if only because of the talent around him. The Celtics have an All-Defense backcourt in Derrick White and Jrue Holiday, while Porzingis has been impactful as a back-line deterrent.

Brown is having the best defensive season of his career. He’s routinely sacrificed scoring to preserve energy on the defensive side. That defensive intensity has only cemented his All-NBA status, but it will be interesting to see just how much consideration he gets for All-Defense.

Among the 162 players defending at least 10 shot attempts per game with at least 40 appearances this season, Brown ranks 18th in the NBA while holding opponents to 44.6 percent shooting. That’s 2.8 percent below expected output, the second-best mark on the Celtics behind only "Cookies 'N Cream" partner Kristaps Porzingis (-5.3).

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Brown’s defensive numbers have slipped a bit post All-Star break. In 50 appearances before the break, he lingered near the top of the NBA while holding opponents to 42.6 percent shooting and 4.6 percent below expected output. But Brown boosted his offensive output coming out of the break and still routinely sought out tough matchups on the defensive end.

Here are some of the players who top Brown’s matchup time for the season: Anthony Edwards, Luka Doncic, Devin Booker, Dejounte Murray, Jamal Murray, Kawhi Leonard, Zion Williamson, and Donovan Mitchell. Brown has embraced defending elite opponents and his desire to take on those matchups has set a tone for the Celtics.

Brown’s willingness to hound James Harden in Round 2 of the playoffs a year ago helped Boston win that series. It showed that, when utilized at the point of attack, Brown can use his strength and athleticism to be a super impactful defender, while also minimizing lapses in concentration when playing off the ball. The Celtics have more frequently leaned into Brown on ball-handlers this season.

In earning a Second Team All-NBA nod last year, Brown proved that he’s one of the top players in the league. But his desire to defend other elite scorers is slowly shifting the narrative that he’s a score-first player. Brown is showing this year that he can have an all-around impact on winning.

The question is whether All-Defense voters will reward him for that willingness to take on challenges. Games like Saturday offer a glimpse at just how much Brown can change the game on the defensive end.