2024 NBA Finals: Jaylen Brown has met the moments that make champions — and superstars

DALLAS — At some point, it’s no longer an anomaly, these superstar performances from Jaylen Brown.

He’s already cemented as a star, but the prevailing feeling in the minds of many has been about the turnovers on the biggest stage, the meltdowns and lack of poise when it mattered most.

But when announcements were needed, statements were made — thunderous dunks when Dallas tried a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse, and pull-up jumpers to quiet a desperate Mavericks rally late in the fourth quarter.

These moments are what makes champions and Finals MVPs — and superstars. Brown’s ascension to this next level, this air-thinning space, lines up with the maturity of the Boston Celtics, who are now 48 minutes away from claiming NBA championship No. 18.

Number 7 again put his stamp on these playoffs, on these NBA Finals. The finishing touches, the moments where series can be won or extended, have belonged to Brown, with further proof of this new man in Boston’s 106-99 Game 3 win at American Airlines Center on Wednesday night.

The Celtics have a 3-0 lead, and no team in NBA history has come back from such a deficit.

Both Brown and Jayson Tatum reached the 30-point mark, with Brown adding eight rebounds and eight assists, while Tatum scored 31 with six rebounds and five assists. For the series, Brown is averaging 24.3 points, 6 rebounds and 5.6 assists.

Both, unbeknownst to the other, had the exact statement when referencing their confirmed poise: “Experience is the best teacher.”

They’ve had enough collective experiences, enough failures and disappointments that they weren’t going to be the team that folded, even though it looked very much like they would revert to their old form when the Mavericks went on a 20-2 run to turn the night into a potentially perilous one.

But they found their center, even though their tallest player, Kristaps Porziņģis, was out with yet another injury. Brown had the game in his hands, his team leading by two. In the past, it felt like he would meander down the lane without a plan, then panic as bodies got in his path.

Jun 12, 2024; Dallas, Texas, USA; Boston Celtics guard Jaylen Brown (7) reacts to the crowd during the fourth quarter during game three of the 2024 NBA Finals against the Dallas Mavericks at American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

But as he went left, he gathered himself — pump-faked once, then released a calm jumper while Luka Dončić, from the bench, tried to give the attempt some body english to make it go anywhere but the bottom.

Dončić wasn’t on the floor for one of the few times in his career because he didn’t exhibit the poise Brown was playing with, fouling out in the fourth quarter, and Brown had been there before.

The jumper was true, taking the air out of the building and allowing the Celtics to exhale with a minute left and a four-point lead. With Dončić out, Kyrie Irving had all the weight on his slender shoulders, and as spectacular as he was with a game-high 35 points, there’s only so much he could do.

It’s more than Brown and Tatum on the Celtics' side, but Brown has made a leap.

He signed the largest contract in NBA history, but he heard about his left hand.

He came into this season wanting to make All-Defense but couldn’t crack the top 10. He didn’t even make the crowded All-NBA team this season, the player with the most votes who didn’t get honored.

“So when you have that type of mindset, you're just going to be able to take on every situation that the game brings you,” Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla said. “He puts himself in every single situation that he sees in a game. He uses six, seven, eight coaches a day, and every situation on both ends of the floor, he puts himself in that.

“And that's how you have to grow, is to become vulnerable and on the things that make you uncomfortable, and he does that.”

That will all change, because he’s snatching the recognition and respect, game by game.

“I think definitely it's been some growth, but I think this team has trusted me, especially in this playoffs and those moments to just be who I am,” Brown said. “I felt like I've been able to just deliver just by being patient and being poised. Those opportunities have presented themselves, and I've been able to take advantage of them.”

The Celtics look like the dominant team in this series, and have weathered storms and runs from Dončić and Irving to stay close enough to survive, then exercise discernment when the game reaches the high-leverage moments.

The Mavericks went on that exhilarating run but never took the lead, a testament to the Celtics building a 21-point spread in the fourth quarter after absorbing the early punches to the gut. It’s Brown who defends Dončić to the point of exhaustion and frustration — it’s Dončić who’s had the poor defensive showing this series while Brown has the mental and physical stamina to stay with it and not be deterred by outside forces.

Brown is the one who brings the force — dunking all over P.J. Washington and Josh Green when they couldn’t close the door on his third quarter drive with seconds remaining, capping off a 15-point quarter. It felt like he was saying, “Game over, series over, don’t bother showing up Friday night,” with his finish.

“I mean, how can I explain Jaylen? The guy just has a growth mindset,” Mazzulla said. “He just wants to get better. He yearns to get better. He's not afraid to face his weaknesses on the court.”

His weaknesses, the Celtics' weaknesses were on full display two years ago in the Finals, when Golden State exhibited veteran experience that undid a 2-1 deficit. Their weaknesses pop up now, even during this dominant 15-2 run through the postseason, because of sheer math.

The let-it-fly mentality means they’re launching more 3s (46) than 2s (36), and even if you match their efficiency, your production won’t. It means you’ll feel like you’re playing well as an opponent, but the deficit grows and grows as the Celtics tighten the screws.

Sooner or later, you can’t keep up, or they let you back in.

But they’ve become closers, and they're changing the narrative on who they are, 48 minutes at a time.

“Before I got here, I thought they were good enough to win,” Jrue Holiday told Yahoo Sports. “They had the talent, they had the superstars, they have role players, and they've always been an organization that's always had a chance.”

Holiday affectionately calls Brown “a dog” and even if it were literal, he’s been barking all over the floor this series, all over the Mavericks' scent.

“It’s been great, going against him and playing against them, battling it out and being the ultimate competitor,” Holiday told Yahoo Sports. “Being on this side, I like it better on this side. [He’s] taking control, taking over different games and situations, really just seeing that build to this point.”

It’s building to an inevitable crescendo. Before, it would be leading to the large, disappointing crash — except now, Brown won’t let it.