BOSTON — The Boston Celtics’ most notable moment on Friday night came 85 minutes before tipoff against the Cleveland Cavaliers when Jaylen Brown, rehabbing from a back bruise suffered last week in Dallas, stepped in front of reporters and was asked if he felt there might be changes to the rotation upon his return.
Essentially, it was a nice way of asking how Brown felt if coach Brad Stevens elected to bring him off the bench upon his return to action. The 22-year-old swingman, who just six months ago was the team’s leading scorer as an injury-battered Celtics squad came one win away from a trip to the NBA Finals, pondered the notion and offered a notably mature response.
“Possibly [Brown's role might change], especially if we are winning. Whatever it is that needs to be done to figure it out,” said Brown. "Everybody has talent, everybody has ability, but, obviously, we have to make something work here. We don't want to be looking down the line and trying to figure out, 'What if?' or 'Woulda, coulda,' whatever.
"Whatever it is that we can make it work now, I'm totally happy with that. Winning answers everyone's questions and figures everything out. If we win, everything else will be fine.”
Listen, there’s nine guys in the Celtics’ locker room that can make an honest-to-goodness argument for starting. Stevens can only play five of them and, for much of the season, the ones that he trotted out at the start of games haven’t consistently gotten the job done.
Brown, maybe the player who seemed most uncertain of his role out of the gates this season, was starting to come out of an offensive funk before he hit the ground hard trying to block a shot in the final minutes of a disappointing loss in Dallas. With Brown sidelined and frustrated by his team’s inconsistent play, Stevens shuffled both Marcus Smart and Marcus Morris into the starting lineup in hopes of a jolt of energy and got rewarded with one of Boston’s best wins of the year in New Orleans.
The Celtics kept that momentum going on Friday night by racing away from the basement-dwelling Cavaliers in the second half of a breezy 128-95 triumph at TD Garden. Kyrie Irving (29 points on 15 shots) seemed to have a little extra motivation, even if his former team doesn’t look much like it used to, and Gordon Hayward (14 points on 6-of-9 shooting) displayed more progress (even if he lamented some moments where he felt he could have been more aggressive going at the basket).
But Hayward’s biggest contribution as he searches for what he dubbed, “Old G,” was his selflessness in moving to a bench role earlier this month. When Hayward — and his $31.2 million salary — accepted a move to the second unit, it sent a message to the rest of the team about sacrifice. And even if it was obvious that Hayward might benefit from some time with reserve lineups while working his way back from a fractured ankle, the move ensured that younger players had to fall in line should their rotation role change.
In a quieter way, fellow veteran Marcus Morris had done the same coming into the season. Morris sometimes grumbled last year about desiring a starting role. But he showed up to camp this year — in a contract year, no less — devoid of demands and willing to accept whatever role Stevens asked of him. Told to spearhead the bench, Morris went so far as to create the “BWA” — Bench With Attitude — aimed at getting Boston’s backups on board with the notion of impacting the game with grit while coming off the bench.
Even as he’s elevated to a starting role the last two games, Morris has said he’s on board with however Stevens chooses to ultimately deploy his talent. It seems pretty obvious that, if Boston desires to get where it wants to go, it will probably eventually have to go back to the season-opening starting 5 (Irving, Brown, Hayward, Jayson Tatum, and Horford) as that is the lineup with the highest ceiling and greatest versatility.
But it hasn’t worked yet and Stevens needed to make changes. Now a double shot of Marcus has infused the first unit. And Stevens should probably ride this group until players get more comfortable and then start moving the furniture around.
Apprised of Brown’s comments about accepting any role, Morris seemed pleased.
“It’s very important for a young guy to step up like that,” said Morris. "I think when [Brown] comes back, he’s going to fit in whatever role Coach gives him. We’re just trying to keep it going. We’ve got good spirits right now and we’re just trying to let this thing go as far as it can.”
It’s rare that Boston has gone a full week without an annoying step backward, though an unusual three-day break in the schedule certainly aided that this week. Still, back-to-back wins is progress, and a victory in Minnesota would allow the team to ride some serious good vibes with another odd four-day break ahead.
Irving, who has routinely preached the longview, said he wants the team to use the next 60 games to “turn it up at least two notches.” But you can tell he’s pleased with the progress of the last two games and the way that players seem to understand that roles will remain fluid.
"I think the biggest thing for us has just been patience,” said Irving. "It hasn’t looked pretty, it hasn’t looked great all the time, but it has looked good at times, and I think that we’ve used those moments to build off of, but we just couldn’t find that consistency.
"Now I think that guys are just in the right positions. Obviously, we have some guys out still, so when those guys come back, then I see the level of effort we’re all playing with, and they will fit right along in. [Brown] will add a dynamic, whether he’s starting or off the bench, I think he’ll add another dynamic for us scoring and playing defense, and as well as Al [Horford] being who he is.
"I’m just happy with the guys growing closer as a group and understanding what the big picture is, and playing games the right way.”
The Celtics still have a lot of work to do to play to their potential. But it’s a lot easier to get where they want to go if everyone is pulling on the same rope.
Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.