After missing Boston’s five-game road trip out west, Jaylen Brown returned to the floor in triumphant fashion. He hit his first shot attempt, a wide open corner three to open the game. His gravity and penetration created open shots for Jayson Tatum and Robert Williams. But as he drove baseline on Khris Middleton and finished strong over Bobby Portis, Brown limped to the sideline, favoring his left knee.
A hush fell over the TD Garden when Brown checked out. Even though he didn’t seem concerned and waived off the trainers, Celtics fans have seen this before. After missing over two weeks and eight games, Brown came back after recovering and rehabbing from a strained hamstring, but struggled through five games. He lacked the burst and athleticism that have become staples to Brown’s game.
Thankfully, he just banged knees and was back before the first quarter ended. “I’m fine. I’m good. I’m grateful. I felt good out there. Today, just moving around, I didn’t care if I missed every shot. I’m just grateful that I felt good and I’m grateful that we got the win,” Brown said.
For the game, he scored 19 points on 6-for-13 shooting and chipped in four rebounds, five assists, and two steals to Boston’s big win over the defending champion Bucks. It may not have been his regular output, but his presence on the parquet was clear.
“His impact was obviously invaluable out there,” head coach Ime Udoka said. “You could see his imprint on the game on both ends of the floor. He was explosive. He looked confident, exactly what we saw in the workouts.”
Brown wasn’t exactly tearing up the floor, but he was aggressive whenever he had the ball in his hands and decisive with his play. His five assists against Milwaukee was his highest total in regulation this season.
“You could see the crowd when he’s on the floor and when he’s not. It’s pretty apparent there. It’s what he brings to the team: another superstar elite scorer and teams can’t load up as much. It’s pretty apparent what he does. It’s good to have him back,” Udoka said.
Since the Celtics returned from their disastrous road trip, media pundits and fans alike have suggested that Brown and Tatum be broken up and the team writ large should be blown up. They were accused of being “self-obsessed” and an NBA insider pegged their partnership lasting just another “12-18 months.”
Since Udoka’s hiring and training camp, Brown and Tatum have been tasked to be better playmakers not just for the rest of the team, but for each other. Maybe absence makes the heart grow fonder, but for one night, you could see the symbiotic relationship flourish against one of the league’s best teams.
“Obviously, Jaylen coming back is a difference maker as far as a guy that can create, but not only for himself and others, it’s the space he opens up for everyone else,” Udoka said. “Less attention to Jayson (Tatum)...(and he’s) a guy that they have to account for.”
Tatum had a season-high 42 points on an ultra-efficient 19-for-25 from the field and Brown’s impact with him side-by-side on the floor wasn’t lost on him. “Having him back is having another weapon, another threat that the defense has to worry about. It just makes the game easier for all of us when everyone is playing,” Tatum said.
“You can’t double us both. Just being out there I think takes pressure off of JT, being able to play without seeing double teams, sometimes triple teams,” Brown said of reuniting with Tatum. “If I’m out there and you’re doubling him, I’m going to be aggressive. If you double me, he’s going to look to be aggressive. Just playing with a ball a little bit more in my hands and trying to find guys and making the right plays — that’s it.”