BOSTON -- Boston Celtics third-year swingman Jaylen Brown reaffirmed he expects to return to action Thursday night against the New York Knicks and was adamant that he’s OK if that’s in a reserve role.
The Celtics have won three straight games since shuffling their starting lineup after Brown suffered a back bruise after a hard fall in a loss in Dallas. Brown downplayed the significance of coming off the bench, noting he did as much in the playoffs last season, and suggested he’s perfectly fine with the Celtics sticking with what works, if that’s what coach Brad Stevens ultimately decides to do.
"I’m expecting to keep going how it’s been going,” said Brown, who made it through the past two days of practice without incident. “[Marcus] Smart and [Marcus] Morris have been playing extremely well [with the starters], and our team is looking completely different in the first initial start of the game, so that’s what I would expect. I haven’t talked to Brad or anybody else but however we can keep this going, playing the right way and continue to win, I’m 100 percent for it.”
Brown said last week that he would embrace any role upon his return but a lot has been made about whether he would truly be happy with coming off the bench. Brown said those people are overthinking matters.
"I [came off the bench] in the playoffs, at least. I had some injuries in the playoffs and I played some minute restrictions there,” said Brown, who missed Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals last year due to a hamstring injury and came off the bench three straight games before elevating back to a starting role.
"At the end of the day, it's basketball. I believe in my ability, the coaching staff believes in my ability, so I think coming off the bench, I think people make it a bigger deal than what it really is. At the end of the day, it's basketball. [Gordon] Hayward came off the bench the other day and had 30 points.
"That's a mindset and that's a choice. Coming out and having the right mindset and coming out and playing basketball, letting it take care of itself.”
Hayward might have set the tone for Celtics players when he agreed to shuffle to a reserve role last month but he’s thrived in that role, culminating with a 30-point, 9-rebound, 8-assist night in Minnesota on Saturday. For a Celtics team that is still looking for an offensive jolt, especially when Kyrie Irving is off the floor, Brown will get every opportunity to be assertive with reserve lineups, all while shaking rust from an 11-day absence.
Brown said he wants to bring energy to the court, regardless of when he’s dispatched.
"I'm not the best player but I play with passion, I play with heart, I play with fire, I play with enthusiasm,” said Brown. "Everyone makes mistakes, I make mistakes but the reason why I've had success here in the last couple of years is because I continue to bring that energy. Continuing that and helping the team I think will be beneficial for us.”
Brown said he’s uncertain if he’ll be on any sort of minutes restriction on Thursday but said his back is feeling better and he’s hopeful that the spasms he’s battled recently are in the past.
"It’s good to be back out there with your teammates and just be playing basketball,” said Brown. "At the end of the day, I love this game. So just to be out there in the mix, it’s a blessing.”
Stevens said all indications pointed to Brown returning Thursday but would not tip his hand about who will start.
"We’ll let everybody know [Thursday],” said Stevens. “But we’re kind of set on what we’re going to do.”
And Stevens knows it can be tough to tell a player he’s lost his starting role due to injury but has to do what’s best for the team.
"I think the bottom line is that that’s one of the unfortunate parts is that as a coach, you have to make those decisions and you have to communicate them well and you have to think about how it will affect people and you have to be empathetic to that and the reality is it’s not easy to bounce back and forth in and out of a lineup and it’s not easy to play less minutes than you’re accustomed to,” said Stevens. “But, at the same time, you’re responsible for 15 guys. I do think you have to be empathetic to that.
"As I've said many times, I didn’t play at this level but, in my experience, I learned a heck of a lot more about myself when I was on the bench than I did when things were in the starting lineup. For me, it’s one of the reasons I’ve deemphasized starting as something everyone talks about, something that ultimately isn’t as important as it’s made out to be.”
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