Monday night, the Boston Celtics lost to the Charlotte Hornets in overtime. In the last minute of the extra time, Jaylen Brown missed a wide-open Kristaps Porzingis in the paint and instead took a difficult 3-pointer, which he missed. People talked a lot about the mistake on social media, but it was just one instance of Brown and Porzingis working together, which is starting to take shape.
Since Porzingis moved to Boston this summer, the two have become friends off the court and live in the same building. They showed how well they get along in Wednesday night’s 119–116 win over the Milwaukee Bucks. Porzingis scored 21 points, grabbed six rebounds, and had one assist. Brown finished with 26 points and a season-high eight assists, five of which went to Porzingis. The person/people? You got it, Brown.
Before we get into the bigger picture, you should watch the Porzingis dime. It finished with a Brown windmill that made everyone stand up. Those kinds of dunks don’t happen often in games but rarely in the halfcourt.
Even though neither player has ever been mistaken for a top-level leader, it’s clear that they already know and understand how the other plays. Porzingis has received 21 of Brown’s 50 assists this season, which is 14 more than any other player. While Porzingis’ assist totals may not mean much, here they are anyway: eight of his 26 helpers have gone to Brown.
Other than Brown and Porzingis, Jrue Holiday and Jayson Tatum are the only two players who have played more NBA games together. The Celtics are ahead of teams by 13 points per 100 plays and have a 118.8 offensive rating in those 385 minutes. They also have a 60.3% assist percentage and a 62.5% true shooting percentage.
Of course, the Celtics’ starting group has played many of those minutes, but not all. This pattern should be looked at in the middle of the second quarter.
“Horns” refers to Brown and Porzingis as the two players on the first possession. The ball is passed to Porzingis by Payton Pritchard, who drops a lovely pass behind the back to Brown, who is cutting. As Brown goes downhill, Brook Lopez makes a play, and Porzingis gets an easy lob up top for the slam.
The brave pass made Porzingis happy: “He’s not afraid to throw the alley-oop.”
When Brown is in the middle of a move, Porzingis sets a screen for him. This is, again, a simple story to read since Lopez is keeping a low profile to protect the paint. When Porzingis pops, Brown finds him with a wide-open 3-point shot.
“I love playing with JB so much,” Porzingis said. There are more and more links between us. The truth is that he’s just making the game easy for me. I’m only borrowing his readings. I just do it to give him the ball when he comes off and wants it. He plays the game for a while and then finishes or throws the lob. Because he’s making it easy for me, and his backhands are so powerful and quick, it feels normal to hit him with them. All credit goes to JB.
It was great that Brown and Porzingis were able to help the Celtics beat another top team in the Eastern Conference early in the season, but what’s most encouraging is how the relationship between the two could affect the team in the long run. The Celtics have relied too much on Tatum this season and in the past. They need to find a way to keep scoring even when he’s not playing or is on the bench.
The Heat beat them in the Eastern Conference playoffs last year because of that big problem. When Tatum wasn’t playing, they were terrible, and they couldn’t do anything after he got hurt in Game 7. This was mostly because Brown played so badly. He not only didn’t shoot well, but he also lost the ball a lot.
Putting Brown with Porzingis when Tatum sits down seems like an excellent way to handle several issues simultaneously. The defense will have to pay attention to both of those players, and Porzingis’s size and ability to do a lot of different things in the pick-and-roll make things easier for Brown as a playmaker. That will be very helpful when the playoffs come around.
Most of Brown’s assists to Porzingis this season have been easy reads: lobs to the basket or kick-outs for wide-open threes. It might not be surprising that Brown has had 2.4 mistakes per game this season, the fewest since 2020.
It’s something I don’t know, Brown said. “It’s just like an automatic connection.”