Boston Celtics

Why Tatum views Jaylen's defense as a difference-maker for Celtics

Jaylen Brown's defensive intensity was contagious Wednesday night.

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Jaylen Brown has been the Boston Celtics' offensive tone-setter for much of this season and leads the team in first-quarter scoring. But on Wednesday night, he set the tone on the other end.

With elite defensive guard Jrue Holiday out due to injury, Brown embraced the challenge of defending Milwaukee Bucks star Damian Lillard, using his physicality and athleticism to make the All-Star guard work for his buckets.

Lillard scored just four points on 2 of 6 shooting the first quarter, and while he eventually heated up to score a game-high 32 points (including 11 in the fourth quarter), Brown's efforts against Milwaukee's best player on the floor made a strong impression on his teammates -- particularly fellow All-Star Jayson Tatum.

"It’s powerful, what that does for our team, how much better it makes us seeing him take the challenge of guarding the best guard on the other team,” Tatum told reporters after Boston's 122-119 win. “Picking him up full court, chasing him around all night, it has an impact on the rest of the team and really gives everybody else no excuses.”

Brown defending the opponent's best player is nothing new: He requested to guard Mavericks star Luka Doncic during a game in Dallas in late January and repeatedly has held his own against All-Star opponents. Brown is holding opponents to a 44.7 field goal percentage that ranks in the top 20 among players who defend at least 10 shots per game, an impressive stat considering the talent he faces on a nightly basis.

While Lillard made 11 of his 21 shot attempts Wednesday night, Brown forced his final miss with a great contest on Lillard's layup attempt in the final seconds that sealed the victory for Boston.

"Just trying to chase him around all game," Brown told NBC Sports Boston's Abby Chin after the win. "He's tough. I give a lot of respect to Dame; I was in his jersey all game long and he made some tough shots, so shout-out to him. But that was my assignment, that's why I took on the challenge, and it helped us get the win."

Check out the video player above to hear more from Brown on defending Lillard.

The Celtics are the NBA's only team that ranks in the top three in both offensive rating (first) and defensive rating (second), and Brown deserves credit for his impact on the defensive end. His intensity and effort on defense has been contagious and has helped his teammates buy in on that end as they eye a deep postseason run.

Boston is back in action Friday with a matchup against the Pistons in Detroit at 7 p.m. ET, with NBC Sports Boston's coverage beginning at 6 p.m. ET.

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