What has aided the Celtics’ resurgence the past few weeks is Jaylen Brown’s comfort with his reserve role.
Brown has turned his season around and been a man of few words in the process. He is obviously one of the players who was unhappy with the team’s chemistry and called the atmosphere “toxic” to the Globe a day before the West Coast trip began.
As some of his teammates have battled inconsistency, Marcus Morris has been mired in a shooting slump, and Gordon Hayward is working feverishly to regain his confidence, Brown has flourished after being sent to the bench.
In the Celtics’ 126-120 win over the Sacramento Kings on Thursday, Brown hit consecutive 3-pointers from the same spot to spark a game-changing run in the third quarter. Since the All-Star break, Brown is averaging 14.3 points and shooting 37 percent from the 3-point line compared to 12.7 and 31.6 before the break.
It’s been an interesting year for Brown, who began the season in the starting lineup only to be replaced after 20 games when Celtics coach Brad Stevens decided to opt for the blazing Morris and defensive-minded Marcus Smart.
The beginning was bumpy for the third-year forward despite flourishing during the 2018 playoff run. In October, he started off strong from the 3-point line but couldn’t hit twos. In November, it was exactly the opposite. Since December, Brown has gotten over what could be perceived as being demoted and become a reliable scorer off the bench.
Stevens said he doesn’t consider starting or coming off the bench significant. It’s about minutes and role. Brown’s minutes have dipped this season because of the increased depth, but his importance to the team has increased because he has become such a dependable scorer.
“He’s done a good job of embracing that,” Stevens said. “He’s done a good job of not letting that affect his aggressiveness or his game. And the other thing is, when we bring him in and play him and take [Marcus] Smart out, he can guard the guy Smart’s been guarding. And if we leave Smart in, we can move Smart to a ball handler and pressure a little bit more.
“Those are good pairings and Jaylen’s aggressiveness off the bench has been good ever since he’s gotten used to it.”
After giving his opinion on the atmosphere around the team before the trip began, Brown said the key to improving the team cohesion is winning. That’s all he’s about. Usually expressive and affable, Brown has become more focused on the team goals and tired of talking about what needs to be done.
His future in Boston is up for question. He is eligible for a contract extension this summer, which could be a lower priority for the organization because of the impending free agency of Kyrie Irving and Al Horford, a potential Anthony Davis trade, and how the club fares with its draft picks.
Brown has shown flashes of his vast potential, but it hasn’t been consistent enough for his extension to be a cinch. Of course, that could be blamed on the return of Hayward, the emergence of Morris, and the changing role.
Brown averaged 30.7 minutes per game last season and 32.4 during the playoffs. That has been slashed to 26 per game this season; Brown wasn’t happy about the reduction, but he has made the most of his playing time of late with 22 points each of the past two games and double figures in 11 of 12.
While Hayward’s improvement garnered the most headlines, Brown’s stability helped the Celtics regain their swagger as they enter the final month of the season.
“Just playing basketball. Just being aggressive. That’s it,” he said when asked about his performance. “We just have to basically do our job. I don’t really make excuses and nor should anybody else on our team. We gotta come out and do a job no matter where we’re playing. We have to clean up some of the habit going forward because we don’t want to get down [big in games].”
That’s about it from Jaylen. He doesn’t like to address his personal game anymore. He just wants to talk team. It’s not that he’s unhappy, but he’s definitely more focused on team success and having a significant part in it.
The contract and his long-term future are topics that will eventually work themselves out. But it seems Brown got tired of talking about how to make things better for his team and just decided to ball.