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CHARLOTTE — Jaylen Brown didn’t look like a player who had spent much of the past week getting pumped full of antibiotics to battle the illness and infection that forced him to miss three games, especially when he blew past Bismack Biyombo for a left-handed layup early in the second quarter of the Celtics’ win over the Hornets on Thursday night.
Masked by Kemba Walker’s return to Charlotte and Gordon Hayward’s second consecutive 20/10 performance, Brown quietly chipped in 12 points on 5-for-9 shooting and added five rebounds in 32 minutes.
Brown displayed some rust but also picked up where he left off early in the year, aggressively attacking the basket with four of his five makes coming at the rim, including another snazzy left-handed layup after driving past P.J. Washington late in that second quarter.
Always eager for more, Brown confidently declared in the aftermath that it’s just the start for him.
"This is just my first game back. I can’t wait to get it back rolling, and for people to see how much better I’ve gotten,” said Brown. "You see it in spurts but people will see it. I’m sure of it.”
Even after inking a bountiful rookie extension last month, Brown’s remains on an insatiable quest to prove himself. But the Celtics have played some encouraging basketball with him on the court this season.
The Celtics own a net rating of plus-11.4 in Brown’s 118 minutes of floor time in four appearances, which includes a defensive rating of 92.2. Boston’s defensive rating pops to 103 in the 218 minutes that Brown has been off the court.
The Celtics have confidently deployed Brown against some of their toughest matchups. He logged a team-high 5 minutes, 35 seconds of matchup time against Pascal Siakam in the team’s home opener. Siakam put up 12 points on 5-of-12 shooting but all other offensive players are 13-for-35 for 39 points against Brown this season, per the NBA’s tracking data.
On Saturday, the Celtics visit the San Antonio Spurs. Brown will have the opportunity to catch up with Team USA coach Gregg Popovich, who Brown and teammates came away raving about after their experiences overseas.
"He’s a straight-shooter,” said Brown. "Any time you’re in an environment like that, you’re going to get better.”
While Walker, Tatum, and Hayward garner much of the early attention with each player averaging over 20 points per game, Brown is eager to show the strides he’s made as well.
Brown is averaging 10.3 drives per game this season, sitting one spot ahead of guys like Tatum and Siakam (both at 10.1 per game). More impressive, Brown is shooting 56.3 percent (9 of 16) on attempts off those drives. That percentage has him lingering among drive-finishers like LeBron James (57.8 percent) and James Harden (56.9).
His playmaking abilities have often been criticized but Brown has been a willing passer out of those drives, giving it up 46.3 percent of the time. It’s translated to only three assists but he’s limited his turnovers. Those drives are making good things happen, too, like when he passed out of what would have been a tough finish late in the second quarter of Thursday’s game and fed Tatum for a 3-pointer.
Brown’s return will also help drive down the minutes that Boston’s other starters have logged in his absence, something coach Brad Stevens has yearned to do with the Celtics unable to lean heavy on its bench given early-season injuries.
Like his own scouting report, Brown is bullish on the fact that better things are ahead for the C's, even amid a 6-1 start to the season.
"I think we got a nice little groove, for sure,” said Brown. "I think we have another level we can tap into it, making the right reads every single time. But I think we have a nice groove going. Obviously, we want to be better than what we are.
"We have a potential to be a really really good team but we gotta keep taking the steps to get there.”
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