CLEVELAND – While most of Jaylen Brown’s teammates were back in the team locker room about an hour before tip-off, he was courtside with assistant coach Micah Shrewsberry watching video clips in preparation for tonight’s game against Cleveland.
Brown has been putting in extra work on all phases of the game since the Boston Celtics drafted him with the third overall pick in last June’s NBA draft.
This will be the third time in Brad Stevens’ four seasons as the Celtics head coach that he has started a rookie, with the previous first-year players seeing time with the first unit being Kelly Olynyk (2013-2014 season, nine starts) and Marcus Smart (2014-2015 season, 38 starts).
But tonight is different – very different – as the rookie forward will make his first NBA start in place of an injured Jae Crowder (ankle).
Brown has played with a heightened level of confidence throughout training camp and into the regular season.
But it remains to be seen how that will hold up against the defending NBA champions who are once again being led by LeBron James.
I asked Brown his thoughts on making his first NBA start.
“My thoughts? I have to come out and be the best version of myself for my team,” he said. “Come out and execute, try and get a win.”
When head coach Brad Stevens made the decision to start the 20-year-old, he told him that it would be a great opportunity and that he had to be ready.
And this isn’t likely to be a one-game thing, either.
Stevens said Crowder’s injury will likely keep him sidelined for a couple of weeks.
Brown has been Mr. Poker face throughout his time in Boston, showing very little emotion good or bad when he’s on the floor.
And now on the eve of making his first NBA start against the defending champs nonetheless, that same laser-like focus remains.
When I asked him about where he was emotionally going into this game, he said, “I’m anxious but at the same time I’m calm, I’m ready, just ready to get out and play basketball.”
Stevens said the decision to start Brown ahead of Smart had more to do with keeping Smart with the second unit.
Smart, a player Stevens referred to earlier this season as being a sixth starter, made his regular season debut on Wednesday after missing the team’s first three games recovering from an ankle sprain injured suffered on October 19 in Boston’s final preseason game.
“It was much more where Marcus Smart is going to be and how much we need him when we change our lineups,” Stevens said. “So it was a lot less about Jaylen and more about Marcus.”
I asked Smart about not getting the start tonight, which seemed likely considering he was the player Stevens turned to on Wednesdaynight to start the third quarter when it was determined that Crowder was done for the night.
Smart told me the decision by Stevens to have him come off the bench instead of starting isn’t an issue with him.
“It’s not a disappointment that I’m not starting,” he told CSNNE.com. “I’m just here to do whatever this team needs me to do, to win. It’s not about starting, because I’m going to play. To start it really doesn’t matter because I’m going to play starter minutes anyway. They need me more on the second unit to bring energy, than they do in the first (unit) so that’s what I’m here to do.”
Brown has a clear idea of what he needs to do, and that’s help the Celtics in any way possible to pull off what would be a major upset considering the caliber of opponent and the fact that the Celtics are missing two starters.
Smart remembers vividly what it’s like being a rookie in the NBA making your first start.
There will be some anxious moments and some butterflies for sure.
“It’s not going to be easy,” Smart said. “We’re going to do everything we can to help him be successful, and help us come out of here with a win. That’s the goal we all have in this locker room; find a way to win.”