Much has changed since the Boston Celtics’ Jaylen Brown exploded for a career-high 46 points in the season-opening loss to the New York Knicks.
Left patellar tendinopathy and a right hamstring injury forced Brown to miss a total of nine games this early into the 2021-2022 NBA Season, with the latter issue ending a string of strong performances he had as teammate Jayson Tatum was dealing with oncourt offensive struggles.
On the whole, Brown has scored in double-figures in all but one game, with that sole dud being a nine-point, 3-for-13 shooting performance in a 32-point loss to the Toronto Raptors. In the rematch a little over month later, the Marietta, Georgia native scored 16 points in a 109-97 Celtics victory that atoned for what was their worst loss so far this season. Overall, it was a balanced effort, as seven players scored at least eight points for Boston, with Marcus Smart leading the team with 21 points.
Brown’s numbers in the win don’t jump out of the stat sheet, but his presence makes things easier for Tatum, who had eight points (on 16 shot attempts) against the Raptors. The third pick in the 2016 NBA Draft can also make plays for himself and his teammates, having the ability to drive in the lane and draw the defense for open shots.
On defense, Brown is known as a great on-ball defender who can disrupt passing lanes and join Marcus Smart in taking on the opposing team’s best perimeter players. The 25-year old’s health, though, has clearly affected his defensive abilities as of late, with his timing and defensive awareness being exploited by the likes of Toronto’s Pascal Siakam and rookie Scottie Barnes.
The gimpy hamstring can do this and teams naturally would maximize these advantages to give themselves the best chance to win. It will take time and thankfully for the Celtics, not a lot of teams can throw a combination of Barnes and Siakam at them. It will take some time but, as many saw earlier this season in their 17-point win against the Miami Heat, the potential remains to be there.
In 12 games, Brown has been averaging 22.4 points, 5.3 rebounds, 2.2 assists, and 1.2 steals, improved numbers over his career averages of 15.3 points, 4.7 rebounds, 1.8 assists, and nearly one steal. One can take this with a grain of salt as most of his high-scoring games this season have come prior to the hamstring injury. The 16.0 points on 42.9 percent shooting along with the 1.75 turnovers and 2.25 fouls in fewer minutes Brown has averaged over the last four games since his return also point to indications of the rust and inefficiency he will have to work his way out of. In fact, him shooting 54.5 percent from the field in the win over the Raptors was his best shooting performance since November 3, which was when he made 58.8 percent of his shots in a 13-point win over the Orlando Magic.
Since Brown’s return, Boston has split their last four games and currently have an 11-10 record. They’re 6-3 without Brown and may have to be without him in some future games as he and the Celtics will take a cautious approach considering how complex hamstring injuries can be. That the former California Golden Bear has missed at least eight games in each of his six seasons only gives the Celtics’ management more cause for pause.
However, Boston’s upcoming schedule will be much tougher than in the early part of the schedule when Brown sat out. All of their opponents in the next 10 games are all at .500 or above as of this writing, with games against the Golden State Warriors, Phoenix Suns, Utah Jazz, and the defending champions Milwaukee Bucks looming as major tests. The Celtics will also face the Philadelphia 76ers, which just got Joel Embiid back, twice in December.
There is still a lot of basketball to be played between now and the start of the postseason so Jaylen Brown and the Boston Celtics have a lot of opportunities to work things out. Nonetheless, the margins remain thin, especially in an Eastern Conference where as of this writing, less than a handful of games separate guaranteed playoff spots and a trip to the lottery.