While the rest of his Boston Celtics teammates have shown varying degrees of rust inside the Orlando bubble, Jaylen Brown has come zipping out of the Disney basketball garage like Lightning McQueen.
For the second straight scrimmage, Brown was decidedly Boston’s best player. He was aggressive from the jump on Sunday and finished with a team-high 21 points on 7-of-13 shooting over 27:31 during a 117-103 triumph over the Phoenix Suns.
For anyone that monitored Brown’s quarantine workouts over social media, it’s not a big surprise that he’s hit the ground running. Still, as the rest of Boston’s starters including Jayson Tatum shake rust (Tatum, to be fair, overcame his second straight off-target start with one blistering "February Tatum" stretch), Brown has operated like the season paused four days ago and not four months.
On Sunday, Brown showed off the full offensive toolbox. He was a battering ram going at the basket and muscled home tough finishes, including one absurd hang-in-the-air, and-one floater. He hit catch-and-shoot 3-pointers when defenders gave him too much space, both from the corner and above the break.
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As Kemba Walker assessed: “JB, he hasn’t missed a beat."
Yes, the only thing brighter than Browns' shoes in these early scrimmages has been his play on the court.
“[Brown] works really hard to get better,” said Celtics coach Brad Stevens. "I don’t know that I would deem it a new purpose as far as, like, he’s always been a guy that’s very competitive, very driven, wants to be great, works hard. So I don’t see a whole lot of change in him from that perspective.
"I just see a guy that’s continuing to add experience on experience. He’s a huge part, obviously, of our team and we’re going to need him to be good to have a chance.”
Fourteen months ago, after Boston’s early playoff exit in a season in which a misfit roster muddied Brown’s role, Brown immediately threw himself back in the gym with the goal of showing everyone that he hadn’t reached whatever perceived ceiling they believed he had.
Brown came back for the 2019-20 season with a whole bunch of new gadgets in his toolbox. He displayed better court vision, stronger handle. He didn’t carry himself like a third option and made a strong case for All-Star consideration while matching the scoring output of the teammates who did earn that title.
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Now, as the 22 teams inside the bubble start ramping back in advance of the playoffs, it’s clear that Brown can be a difference-maker for Boston. If opponents are going to much of their efforts into slowing Walker and Tatum, it’s going to leave a whole bunch of open shots for someone like Brown.
But it’s also clear that Brown isn’t just going to wait for the ball to find him. That’s so 2019. He’s going to attack the basket if there’s a sliver of space, then he’ll happily pick up the opposing team’s best scorer at the other end if that’s what the team asks of him.
All the effort that Brown put in during quarantine was designed to allow him to thrive on this stage. The Clippers called “win the wait.” The idea that the team that best embraced the downtime and didn’t allow itself to regress would best position itself for success.
"JB and JT, they work super hard,” said Walker. "I know the work they put in over the hiatus. It's going to pay off.”