INDIANAPOLIS — Jaylen Brown was nearly perfect Friday night.
In Game 3 of Boston’s first-round playoff series against the Indiana Pacers, Brown tallied 12 points in the first 12 minutes to help power the Celtics to a 13-point, first-quarter lead. In the first quarter alone, he eclipsed his scoring total (8) and matched his number of field goals made (4) from Games 1 and 2 combined.
“Obviously, he really shot the ball well [and] didn’t force anything that wasn’t there,’’ coach Brad Stevens said following the team’s 104-96 victory that extended its series lead to 3-0.
After going 0 for 5 from behind the arc in Games 1 and 2, Brown knocked down his first four three-point attempts to help the Celtics build their early cushion and rack up 41 points in the first quarter alone. While the lead eventually dissipated in the second, Brown’s hot hand continued throughout the game.
The 22-year-old missed only one field goal to finish with a team-high 23 points on 8-for-9 shooting. His lone misfire came with just less than five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, on an end-of-shot-clock heave that was closely contested by Pacers center Myles Turner.
“I just try to come out and be aggressive,’’ said Brown, who also grabbed seven defensive rebounds. “Tonight, some shots happened to fall.’’
Although Brown’s flashy stat line Friday likely caught more attention than those from the previous two games, Stevens noted there actually isn’t much of a difference among the three outings. He specifically highlighted Brown’s consistent defense guarding Pacers forward Bojan Bogdanovic, which, in Stevens’s words, is “a heck of a task.’’
According to the NBA’s tracking data, Brown limited Bogdanovic to 7 points on 3-for-8 shooting on 48 possessions in Games 1 and 2. Through the first three games in the series against the Celtics, Bogdanovic is shooting 38.7 percent from the field, down from his regular-season average of 49.7 percent, and 31.5 percent from downtown, down from his regular-season average of 42.5 percent.
Stevens also, once again, brought up Brown’s “pass of the game’’ to find forward Jayson Tatum for the go-ahead three in the final minute of Game 2 Wednesday night.
All that’s to say, Game 3 wasn’t necessarily a breakthrough performance for Brown.
“He got nine attempts and he made some,’’ Stevens said. “I think ultimately sometimes we overreact to makes.’’
Brown, who has returned to the starting lineup this postseason due to the partially torn oblique muscle sidelining shooting guard Marcus Smart, wasn’t the only one to turn in a good night. The Celtics collectively took advantage of Indiana’s defensive focus on point guard Kyrie Irving. Including Brown, five Celtics reached double-digit scoring. Tatum finished with 18, Horford added 16, Irving notched 19, and Morris had 11.
“When the game is going the way it’s going tonight, it’s better to get everyone else involved,” Irving said. “That was the mentality I had in this game on the road, really putting the emphasis on my teammates and putting their stamp on the game as well.”
“They have guys that are very capable,’’ echoed Pacers coach Nate McMillan. “It’s not just Irving that they have that’s making plays. It’s a solid team with a lot of ways to attack.’’
For the Celtics, the win not only gave them an opportunity to go for the sweep Sunday afternoon but it also got a monkey off their back from the get-go.
During the playoff run last season, the team struggled mightily on the road, winning just one of their eight away games. Brown, who was also a starter throughout the entirety of the postseason, said it feels good to have a road victory after the first opportunity.
“I’m looking forward to the next one,’’ he said. “We just got to keep doing it.’’