The energy is about to shift.
Everyone remembers Jaylen Brown’s tweet. The one that went up on January 31. The Celtics promptly launched into a nine-game winning streak that ignited a 26-5 finish as Boston surged to the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference.
"I guess he's clairvoyant -- or cryptic," shrugged Celtics forward Grant Williams.
Brown, who has since produced T-shirts for his Juice brand displaying the tweeted message, suggested during Boston’s second-half surge that he may have been simply referencing the impending end of Mercury's retrograde.
But he’s simply downplaying his ability to see the future. And it might have been something Brown said three weeks earlier that proved it.
On January 6, an Evan Fournier national-TV revenge game inside Madison Square Garden dropped Boston to 18-21 overall and 11th place in the Eastern Conference.
Two nights later, Brown produced the first triple-double of his career as the Celtics bounced back against that same Knicks team. In the aftermath, he was quizzed about pundits who had spent the previous 48 hours breathlessly pondering if Brown and Jayson Tatum could coexist, or if the star duo needed to be split up because Boston wasn’t winning with them at the helm.
A diplomatic Brown dismissed the suggestion and offered nothing but positivity.
"I think a lot of the adversity that we're kind of going through now is going to help us grow and get better in the future," Brown calmly said that night. "If we get over this slump and continue to learn, I think there's a lot of good basketball on the other side of this."
There was little reason to believe Brown in that moment. The Celtics hadn’t shown any sort of consistency that suggested the team might put together maybe the most improbable in-season turnaround in NBA history.
That win over the Knicks jumpstarted a stretch in which Boston ripped off five victories over six games and steadied a ship that had been taking on water. The team stumbled again later in the month, including an impossibly bad collapse against the Trail Blazers that pushed the team back under .500.
The energy might have shifted but Brown’s never did. He was unwaveringly positive that these Celtics would figure it out. And they did.
Grant Williams said teammates have joked that Brown must be practicing his motivational messages in front of a mirror on the night before games. The Celtics posted a clip inside the locker room in Memphis after Boston’s regular-season finale in which Brown confidently declared that he would take this team against whoever Boston drew in the first round. The Nets won that right with Tuesday night’s play-in victory.
"He’s been doing a great job of just positive reinforcement, keeping us in the right spirits, right energy, to have our minds wrapped around the right things," said Williams. "And keeping us moving forward and not really paying attention to what's the noise around us. We're so focused on each other. So he’s been doing a phenomenal job of that.”
For his part, Brown truly does believe there was a shift in the team’s vibes. He can’t pinpoint the moment but he knows the early season adversity forced this team to grow.
"At what point? I'm not sure, to be exact, but it definitely was a shift in the energy for sure," said Brown. "We definitely made the most of our adversity, by learning through our experience. And I think that's what growth is about.
"I think a lot of things didn't get taken into account. It's not a city to make excuses in but I missed 15 games earlier in the season. New coaching staff. New teammates were still trying to figure it out. And like everybody -- there was a new front office, we were trying to get our footing, and while we were trying to get our footing, we were losing games. So when we finally got set, when we finally felt like we were established, everybody was healthy, I think that's when things started to turn around."
Brown missed 15 games early in the season due to ankle and hamstring injuries. It cost him the opportunity to push for another All-Star spot. Unfazed, he finished the season strong, even if his contributions were sometimes overshadowed by the MVP-push of Jayson Tatum.
Brown’s usage rate spiked to a career-high 29.5 percent this season but he still produced one of his most efficient seasons. The most notable number on his stat line is the bump to a 17.3 assist percentage, which ranked in the 89th percentile among all wings, per Cleaning the Glass data.
That playmaking boost, when coupled with Tatum making the same leap, seemed to unlock Boston’s offense. A team that once leaned far too heavy on isolation play now simply makes the right basketball decision, much to the delight of first-year coach Ime Udoka. Tatum and Brown buying into being willing facilitators made it easier for teammates to do the same.
Brown was elite as a finisher during Boston’s second-half surge. Over the final 10 games, he averaged 26.9 points while shooting 54.5 percent overall and 46.7 percent beyond the 3-point arc. He had a stretch late in the season where he scored 25-plus points in 10 consecutive games.
After missing last year’s playoffs due to a wrist ailment, there’s an excitement in Brown’s voice about what’s ahead. He hasn’t been able to contain his energy, let alone shift it.
"I’ve had a little bit of trouble sleeping,” said Brown. "So I'm just trying to calm myself down. I’m ready to go, I'm excited, it's playoff time, it’s the best time of the year. This is what you work for.
“So, ultimately, going out there and just breathing and being yourself is going to be key because I know it's gonna be a lot of energy in the Garden, there’s gonna be a lot of energy in the arena. So sometimes the more calm, relaxed player is the one who gets the advantage. So just trying to stay balanced as much as possible, but I'm definitely excited.
"You could tell about a smile on my face, right?”
Yup, but that smile and that energy has been there all season. It’s never shifted.
Editor's Note: Each day this week, NBC Sports Boston will spotlight a different "pillar" of the 2021-22 Celtics.