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Celtics can’t afford to postpone Jaylen Brown’s second-half drop


Celtics

A second-half meltdown by Jaylen Brown played a big part in Miami’s Game 6 win on Friday. Can he bounce back in Game 7 on Sunday. Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

The Celtics are going to need Jaylen Brown to come out big in Game 7 of this grueling Eastern Conference Finals series with the Heat.

He just might – even if they’re still waiting for him to show up for the second half of Game 6.

Brown scored 20 points in the Heat’s relentless 111-103 series win Friday night at the Garden, but only two in the second half. He didn’t score a single bucket and only attempted two shots after the break.

His only pair of points in the second half came on free throws with just under 8 minutes left to cut Miami’s lead to two, 89-87.

It was either team’s game to win at that time. Minutes later, the Heat took control and the Celtics passed out in part due to a pair of missed free throws by Brown.

With 2:06 remaining and the score tied at 99-99 thanks in large part to an extraordinary performance by Derrick White (22 points, 4 of 5 in 3-point territory), Brown went to the line with a chance to give the Celtics in the lead.

Brown can be an inconsistent free throw shooter, with his slow and methodical release, but he had made his first seven free throw attempts of the game up to that point, and the Celtics as a team had only missed. ‘a. But both attempts ricocheted off the edge.

Jimmy Butler, who was in beast mode (47 points) after appearing hobbled in Game 5, followed up the misses with a conventional 3-point play at the other end, and the Heat iced their victory at the foul line . Brown’s charge on a dunk attempt with 1:21 to go – initially called a block on Victor Oladipo before he was knocked down – was the Celtics’ last wheeze.

If the Celtics win this series, the Game 6 loss will be remembered as a blow on the road to the Finals. If they lose Sunday night in Miami, it becomes an unfortunate playoff loss.

Brown seemed resolved afterward that the Celtics would pull themselves together in Game 7, and there’s reason to believe they will. They are 6-2 on the road in the playoffs and have fresh memories of beating defending champion Bucks on home turf in Game 6 in the previous round before winning the series at the Garden. And the road team has already won four times in this crazy series.

“We’ve been resilient all year and it’s a different test,” Brown said. “Obviously this game hurt to lose at home, but we have to have a short-term memory [loss]. That team over there is hungry. They are experienced. So we have to be ready to go and almost forget the last game and go out and have a great mentality.

“It’s definitely a lousy game. Lots of stoppages, et cetera. But that’s what it is. It’s playoff basketball. We have to get out in the next game. They forced a Game 7, so now we have to go out and do what we do best.

Playing Game 7 in Miami shouldn’t scare Brown, who led the Celtics with 25 points in their 93-80 victory in Game 5. And he had some standout moments in the first half of Game 6, when he and Jayson Tatum combined for 36 of the Celtics’ 46 points before the break.

In a stretch of about 2½ minutes beginning around the 4-minute mark in the second quarter, Brown knocked down two pull-up jumpers, scored on a backhand foul of his own, converted a conventional 3-point play, hit two more free throws, and had a pair of interceptions as the Celtics went from trailing, 40-35, to leading, 46-42.

The mood at that time was one of optimism. The Celtics had the home crowd in their corner and supposedly cooler legs. But Butler and the Heat had a backlash for every Celtics hit. And Brown — and Tatum too, who finished with 30 points, but on just 12 shooting, five in the second half — couldn’t produce in their usual high-volume fashion.

“I really felt like I was taking care of the ball, finding my places where I could drive, et cetera, and whether the contact was there or not, I just didn’t make enough plays in the stretch” , said Brown, who had five assists, but also four turnovers. “They started doubling up, we made some good plays, but we definitely have to find more ways to be aggressive in the next game. … It’s a fine line between letting the game come to you and being almost aggressive.

The Celtics haven’t gotten much help from their supporting cast other than White. Marcus Smart took a team-high 15 shots, which isn’t what you want, and only made it three. Al Horford had one field goal on eight attempts. Grant Williams scored 2 points and yelped at the umpires so much you’d think he was the NBA’s chief umpire. Robert Williams III scored 12 points and provided inspired bursts, but coach Ime Udoka turned away from him in the fourth quarter.

There is therefore no way around it: while the Warriors are already waiting for the winner of the East in the final, the Celtics let slip a golden opportunity on Friday. We’ll find out on Sunday night if this is something they’ll always bemoaning, or another case of the Celtics making it difficult for themselves before they finally get away with it. “If it were easy,” White thought afterwards, “it wouldn’t be us.”

Brown, and Tatum too, weren’t themselves in the second half on Friday. Sunday, to use an expression, the energy better switch.



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