HOUSTON — Jaylen Brown told reporters at media day last month that his body was fully healed after dealing with knee issues all of last season.
That optimism lasted about two games. On his 25th birthday, the Celtics forward was scratched from Boston’s 107-97 victory Sunday night at Houston with what the team called “left patella tendinopathy.” Brown, who scored 46 points in the Celtics’ season-opening game vs. the Knicks, but just 9 on Friday vs. the Raptors, was listed as questionable Saturday with the injury.
It’s uncertain if the injury is something the club will monitor in coming weeks, but that Brown is already feeling discomfort after taking several months off because of wrist surgery is not encouraging for a club who has dealt with injuries and COVID issues the past several months.
Celtics coach Ime Udoka said the combination of Brown missing 10 days with COVID-19, ramping up to play in the season opener at New York and then playing 46 minutes led to knee pain.
Udoka did say Brown could return for Monday’s showdown with Gordon Hayward and the Hornets in Charlotte.
“I think it’s something we will monitor but it was a change of plans, him being out for 10 days,” Udoka said. “That changed his outlook after missing [some] training camp and preseason games. It’s something he’s dealt with in the past and it usually calms down pretty quickly and he’s back in a day or two.”
Udoka decided to go extra small against the athletic Rockets, starting newly-signed Dennis Schröder in place of Brown. He joined Marcus Smart, Jayson Tatum, Al Horford, and Robert Williams and responded by scoring 18 points on 7-for-14 shooting to go along with 5 rebounds, 5 assists and 1 steal.
They’re not alone
The Celtics were embarrassed at home Friday by the Toronto Raptors but weren’t the only quality team blown out already this season. Phoenix lost by 29 at Portland. Milwaukee lost by 42 at Miami and Dallas lost by 26 at Atlanta.
“We looked a little tired,” Udoka said. “New guys in the lineup changes things. You’d think adding [Horford] and Josh [Richardson] would give us a boost and sometimes it messes up the rotation, playing with those guys and not playing with them in the preseason. But [the game] wasn’t as bad as you think in the moment. The third quarter, it got away from us.”
The Celtics weren’t the only team to suffer a rough start. The Los Angeles Lakers entered Sunday’s game against Memphis with a 0-2 record. The Clippers are 0-2. The Suns are 1-2 and a night after their impressive win over the Celtics, the Raptors lost for the second time at home.
“The shorter preseason and less games is part of it,” Udoka said. “For us, we had guys out with COVID and it’s something you’ve got to deal with it and play through, be patient and understand that, especially with the continuity we got away from in the preseason.”
Horford and Brown each missed time with COVID during the preseason. Schröder missed a preseason game with knee soreness.
Smart was suspended for the final preseason game and Richardson missed the season opener with migraines.
“Back in the day you were used to having seven or eight preseason games in a month to figure some things out,” Udoka said. “Coming in with a new staff and adding some new personnel and my voice and what I want to get accomplished, it’s going to take some time. With those guys out, we’re looking at this as an extension of preseason and being patient but also demanding certain things from our guys.”
The Celtics’ depth took another hit before Sunday night’s game when third-year forward Romeo Langford was a late scratch with calf soreness. The Celtics have been trying to keep Langford healthy enough to show his vast improvement over the past several months.
Memories still vivid
For the first three years of Rockets coach Stephen Silas’s life, his father Paul was a bruising power forward for the Celtics who helped Boston win NBA titles in 1974 and 1976. While Silas also won a title with the Seattle SuperSonics, he has always considered himself a lifetime Celtic, and that wasn’t lost on Stephen.
“Growing up, that was it, my dad was a Celtic,” Stephen said. “He was on a bunch of other teams, but he was a Celtic. I have a Celtics jersey in my upstairs area, autographed and he wouldn’t want it any other way. He was a Celtic. It’s always pretty cool to see that.”
Meanwhile, the Rockets signed former Celtic Daniel Theis to a four-year, $35.6 million deal to pair with Christian Wood and serve as a mentor to his younger Houston teammates.
“He’s brought someone who can defend at many levels,” Silas said of Theis, who started against his former apprentice, Robert Williams, and finished with 6 points, 5 rebounds and 2 assists in 23 minutes. “One thing I’ve been talking a lot about is we have a lot of guys on our team who haven’t seen a bunch of situations. And he’s seen a lot of situations. That goes a long way with our group.”