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gary washburn | on basketball

Jaylen Brown, in return from injury, looked like the player the Celtics had been missing. Can he stay healthy?

Jaylen Brown looks to make a pass against the Rockets on Monday night at TD Garden.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

This is the Jaylen Brown Celtics’ faithful may have to get accustomed to. He has already missed half the season with injuries and has been plagued with ailments for the past two years.

On Monday night at TD Garden, he returned after missing eight games with a strained right hamstring. After a lethargic first half in which he looked winded, Brown scored 10 points in a span of 65 seconds in the third quarter; displaying the offensive prowess the Celtics will need to become a contender in the Eastern Conference.

He finished with 19 points in 23 minutes and scored with relative ease in Boston’s 108-90 win. While Jayson Tatum has returned to vintage form after a rough start, the Celtics have been waiting for Brown to get fully healthy to help Tatum and enhance what has been an erratic offense.


Brown is crucial to the Celtics’ success. But it’s already been a difficult sojourn for the fifth-year player. He missed 10 days in training camp while in COVID-19 protocol but rebounded 46 points against the New York Knicks in the season opener.

He then experienced knee issues, COVID-19 fatigue, and a strained hamstring. While Tatum and Dennis Schröder have overcome early-season slumps, Brown is still trying to work his way into shape and develop chemistry with Tatum and others in various rotations.

“Man, I love the game and I believe in our unit, so I was definitely itching to get out there,” Brown said. “I don’t want to miss any more games than I have to. I definitely want to be out there going to war with my teammates but at the same time making sure I’m not putting myself at risk down the line.”

Jaylen Brown grimaces after appearing to get struck in the eye during the second half of Monday's win over Houston.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

The Celtics desperately wanted to rack up some wins to begin the Ime Udoka era but instead lost several close games and blew a couple of large leads. They have since settled down, with eight wins in 11 games but most of this resurgence has occurred without Brown.


What’s more, the Celtics have been besieged with other minor injuries and illnesses. Josh Richardson missed Monday with a non-COVID illness while Robert Williams returned from a three-game absence because of a sore knee. Udoka hasn’t had an opportunity to see his full complement of players and Brown has been the most important missing piece.

The club was careful with Brown’s hamstring because he’s had a history of strains. The hope is eventually he’ll reach full health and be able to unleash the athleticism he promised after battling knee issues all last season.

Off the floor, Brown attended the court dedication for the late Terrence Clarke on Sunday. And he’s continuing his quest for a new shoe contract. After donning different brands over the past few weeks, Brown wore Nikes on Monday.

But the Celtics have sorely missed his presence, his ability to score in bunches and take pressure off Tatum and give the team a different element.

“Early in the game it looked like he took a little time to get warm,” Udoka said of Brown. “As much as he’s worked and rehabbed and played with some of the coaches, it’s nothing like the actual game out there. He said he still doesn’t feel ‘normal’ normal but to have him back in that third quarter and see what he did was a great sign.”


Brown said he felt some hamstring tightness before the game and it took a while to get loose. It may take a couple games for him to gain full strength and confidence in the hamstring.

Houston's Jae'Sean Tate tries to drive past Jaylen Brown during the second half of Monday's game.Charles Krupa/Associated Press

“This group has played extremely well while I’ve been out,” Brown said. “I’ve seen steps forward from a lot of guys and that makes me excited about our potential. I just want to continue to add value, play off those guys and keep winning games.”

The good news is Udoka has plenty of time to acclimate Brown into the offense, and defensively he should make a positive impact as he gets healthier. Brown’s attitude toward the potential of last year’s team wasn’t always positive and he had reason to be skeptical. But he has never wavered in his confidence with this current group since training camp.

His only regret is he hasn’t been around enough to make the impact he’s capable of. That should change soon.

“I don’t want to put too many expectations on this group but we’ve got to come out and play some good basketball like we’ve been doing,” he said. “I’m looking forward to putting everything together.”

Gary Washburn is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at gary.washburn@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GwashburnGlobe.