Jaylen Brown and the Boston Celtics drank the Toronto Raptors‘ milk, ate their cookies and didn’t leave them a single gift. Brown scored a game-high 30 points, shooting 10 for 13 and 5 for 7 from deep with six rebounds and four assists. It was the first time the Raptors had hosted a Christmas Day game, but the Celtics spoiled the defending champions’ festivities, winning 118-102 at Scotiabank Arena.
For Brown, this was more than just hot shooting. Casual fans who treat Dec. 25 as the start of the NBA season were treated to an exhibition of all the ways in which Brown’s game has grown. In the last two minutes of the third quarter, he made three plays that were heroic from Boston’s perspective and demoralizing from Toronto’s.
First, he bailed the Celtics out late in the shot clock with a 3, using a pump fake to get OG Anunoby in the air, dribbling to his left and squaring up perfectly.
Then came his most highlight-worthy move: a midrange jumper set up by a nasty pair of crossovers that put Rondae Hollis-Jefferson on skates:
That is superstar stuff, as is the ridiculous turnaround he hit in isolation, with Patrick McCaw’s hand in his face and the shot clock about to expire.
On the broadcast, color analyst Richard Jefferson joked that Brown deserves more than the four-year, $115 contract extension he signed just before the start of the regular season. The way the 23-year-old has played, though, that number genuinely looks like a bargain. Through 25 games, Brown is averaging 20.2 points, 7.0 rebounds and 2.4 assists with a 60 percent true shooting percentage. He also happens to be a big wing who can defend multiple positions, the most coveted archetype in the modern NBA.
Had Brown not come to an agreement with Boston in October, he would surely be in line for a max contract. As it stands, he has a good chance of making the All-Star Game. His ball-handling, footwork and passing have all improved noticeably, and unlike last season, the Celtics have created an environment in which he can show all his skills. It’s as if he picked up where he left off at the end of their remarkable run in the 2018 playoffs, only with a more refined offensive game.
To say Boston had issues in 2018-19 would be a massive understatement, and Brown’s emergence is indicative of how different this iteration of the team has been. Kemba Walker didn’t make a field goal on Sunday, finishing with two points and six assists, and the Celtics blew out his former team anyway. Jayson Tatum shot a miserable 5 for 18 on Christmas Day, and yet the Raptors were playing catch-up for most of the afternoon. Opposing defenses cannot easily account for the three of them plus Gordon Hayward, and there is no longer palpable tension when the Celtics have the ball: The playmakers all know they will get their opportunities, as the rest of the roster is made up of low-usage role players.
At 21-7, with the second-best net rating in the league, Boston has the statistical profile of a championship contender. It hasn’t even been fully healthy for any significant stretch, and the front office could beef up the frontcourt or add another reserve wing in between now and February’s trade deadline. Beating the tough but shorthanded Raptors in a Christmas matinee does not say much about the Celtics’ ability to handle the likes of Giannis Antetokounmpo or Joel Embiid in May, but the way they did it reflects their identity: Boston can win multiple ways. Now, merrily, one of those ways is a Jaylen Brown explosion.