Chris Forsberg

Forsberg: Brown's defense has changed the Celtics-Sixers series


PHILADELPHIA — James Harden got in exactly one dribble before Jaylen Brown reattached to his hip in the opening seconds of Game 3.

Following Harden’s Game 1 outburst, the Celtics have dispatched Brown as the primary defender on Harden the last two games. Brown routinely picks up Harden in the backcourt and makes him work simply to get over the center stripe. The results? Harden has been limited to one point on 0-for-7 shooting with three turnovers when Brown is the primary defender over the past two games.

 Celtics Talk POSTGAME POD: Celtics get gritty road win in Philadelphia, take series lead vs. Sixers | Listen & Subscribe

Harden looked disengaged at times on Friday but Brown helped deliver him to that point. Harden finished 3-of-14 shooting with five turnovers in Game 3. Brown has preserved much of his energy for the defensive end and steadied the Celtics after the team fumbled away a chance to win Game 1 despite Harden’s outburst.

"Man, honestly, it started with Jaylen,” said Malcolm Brogdon. "Jaylen’s picked up Harden, made it difficult on him the last two games and it's really changed the whole series.

"Brown’s intensity on defense, [he’s] been picking him up, setting the tone every game. I think it's made [Harden] real uncomfortable."

Asked if there’s anything Boston is doing to limit him since Game 1, Harden barked, “Nope,” after his Game 3 dud. But Brown’s impact is undeniable. The Celtics have essentially decided to make Harden and ailing Joel Embiid work on both ends of the court and the Sixers stars haven’t been up to the task.

The Celtics have limited the damage the Sixers have been able to inflict running Harden/Embiid pick-and-rolls. Harden turned the ball over three times in the first quarter on Friday night, including twice after Brown fought through Embiid screens.

"Jaylen is setting the tone for us,” said Al Horford. "He’s doing a great job and, you’re right, we are following him not only on the offensive end but on the defensive end as well. So he’s playing at a very high level right now.”

Brown battled through foul trouble to impact the game but downplayed his own impact in limiting Harden.

"I don’t know, just having pressure, intensity. Just coming out and playing,” said Brown. "He’s a great player and just trying to make it tough on him. That’s it.

"Just doing my job, playing defense, having fun, and we just got to keep doing it and get ready for the next game.”

The Celtics had a team-best defensive rating of 98.6 in Brown’s 34 minutes of floor time in Game 3. For the series, Harden is 2-of-11 shooting with six points and four turnovers in nearly 16 minutes of total defensive matchup time against Brown.

Here’s a few more things we liked from Boston’s Game 3 win that allowed them to rip back homecourt advantage:

Grant Williams is tough

Grant Williams, after playing sparingly in Round 1 against the Hawks, has been thrust into a larger role with the return of Embiid in this series. His reward? Getting his face smashed into the hardwood by the MVP on Friday night.

Williams was defending Harden near the start of crunch time in the fourth quarter when he went to the floor to chase a loose ball. Brown dove with him and Embiid got tangled in the mess. Leaping backwards trying to jump over Brown, Embiid’s right foot — and most of his body weight — drove Williams’ face directly into the ground.

Williams’ face got busted up and he needed attention from the training staff but he was back on the floor with 4:07 to play and helped the Celtics get to the finish line of the win.

“I’m a little crazy so I was fine. I’m good,” said Williams. 

Asked if he had seen the sequence, Williams said a staff member showed him the replay in the locker room.

“I was like, ‘Dang, I really did get curbstomped,’” joked Williams. “But it happens, man. He was falling backwards and I’m just thankful that he didn’t totally lean his weight onto it.”

Williams admitted it was difficult to talk as he chatted with reporters after the game but pledged to be ready for Game 4.

Al Horford, confirmed elite shooter

You knew it was going to be a huge night for Horford just being back in Philadelphia. But when a Boston TV reporter laughed after Horford dubbed himself an, “elite shooter,” while discussing his attempts to snap a shooting slump at morning shootaround, the big man was destined to come out inspired.

Horford connected on 5-of-7 3-pointers — and 6-of-8 shots overall — as part of a 17-point, 7-rebound night. 

“Whoever laughed at him earlier, shame on you,” said Jayson Tatum. "Al is definitely an elite shooter. He's been that, and proven that, and he's so important to what we're trying to accomplish as a team. How he's transitioned his game from early in his career to now, being a knockdown shooter, being somebody that really makes an offense special. 

"You got me out there, you got JB. But the thing that really helps us is Al being able to space the floor. You gotta worry about us going to the basket. If you want to come help, we've got shooters all around and Al takes big shots and makes big shots. So I got all the trust in the world in Al whenever he's out there, whenever he has the ball, whenever he shoots.”

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