The Celtics competed in five of the NBA’s last seven Eastern Conference finals matchups. In three appearances (2020, 2022, 2023), Boston entered the postseason with the league’s second or third-best defensive team rating, per Statmuse.
The Celtics are at their best when the defense is at the forefront. All-Star Jaylen Brown understands it’s as equally important as Boston’s new additions in center Kristaps Porzingis and Jrue Holiday mean to the offense ahead of the 2023-24 season. Losing 2022 Defensive Player of the Year in Marcus Smart, 2022’s NBA All-Defensive Second Team center Robert Williams III, and Grant Williams — three players who hung their hats on the defensive end of the floor — certainly leaves a void for the upcoming season.
Holiday, a two-time All-Star, 2021 champion, and three-time All-Defensive Team guard, is Smart’s replacement as starting point guard. However, in the frontcourt, Brown has vowed to take things up a notch on defense and as one of the team’s leaders.
“We’ve always had pretty good or great defensive teams since I’ve been here, and I think that we want to keep that and maintain it. I think that’s the emphasis,” Brown said at Media Day, Monday. “Obviously, with some of the additions that we got, I think that we’ll continue to excel forward but make sure that energy is being maintained. Personally, for me, I think that, at different points throughout my career, I’ve been able to display my defensive ability, but not enough. I think that when I’m dialed in, and I make sure that I’m challenging myself, I think I can be one of the better defenders in the world. And that’s something I’m challenging myself with.”
Jaylen wants to emphasize defense strongly and is excited about the upcoming season.
“Meeting more guys at the rim, making more plays, having more of a presence defensively is something I’m looking to do,” Brown added. “So, I’m excited about the year in general. And I’m excited about our guys. I think we have a great group of guys, so let’s do it.”
Eager to join forces with Holiday, the two-time All-Star has always respected the 33-year-old veteran. Brown was on the receiving end of one of Jrue’s better performances as a member of the Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference finals in 2022.
“I owe a tremendous amount of respect to Jrue from somebody who he’s guarded, and I’ve had to guard. He plays with a certain force that you can just feel,” Brown said. “He’s just super solid. As a competitor, he’s an assassin. So, playing alongside, I think, would be a tremendous honor.”
After signing the wealthiest deal (five-year, $288.2 million) in NBA history, Brown’s long-term commitment to Boston makes him a more substantial presence in the locker room, especially following Smart’s exit. Entering 2023-24, Jaylen replaces Marcus as the longest-tenured Celtic on the roster.
“We got a lot of voices that are no longer with us. Blake, Grant, Smart are all very vocal guys. So, I think, definitely, hearing my voice a little bit more this season, J.T.’s voice a little bit more this season,” Brown said. “Also, making sure we all are on the same page. We all are focused on the main objectives.”
Accountability. Something Brown and his All-Star teammate Jayson Tatum will have to reinforce throughout the season.
“We just focus on the work. Focus on the day-to-day process. Focus on trying to put our best foot forward and trying to be the best team we can possibly be,” Brown added. “Chemistry building is going to be important. You can’t just throw some guys out there and expect everything to work. Our habits are going to create our future and our success. So, you have to build some great habits throughout training camp. I’m excited about that, and I’m excited about the journey.”
Entering his eighth season with the Celtics, Jaylen has played long enough to know changes come with the territory. The NBA is a business. Players rarely play out their entire career for one team. As Smart and Williams will begin the upcoming season as members of their respective new teams, the Memphis Grizzlies and Portland Trail Blazers, Brown referred to his former teammates as brothers and said he’ll cherish the time spent in Boston together.
“I played with Smart for the majority of my career. Smart is, regardless of what jersey he has on, that’s still my brother, and I feel the same way about Rob (Williams III),” Brown said. “To spend so much with guys, for people who don’t kind of know, to kind of put it in perspective, it’s like going through high school and middle school with somebody.
“You kind of grew up with these guys. For them to not be around is a little weird, but everybody has a journey, and I know that those guys are going to do great in those places that they’re at. Your reaction is non-belief at first. Then, reality sets in, and you move forward.”