By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — After missing three games with a back bruise, Celtics guard Jaylen Brown is set to return to action Thursday night against the New York Knicks.
Whether he’ll start on the floor or on the Boston bench remains a mystery, as Brad Stevens wouldn’t delve into his lineup for Thursday night’s tilt following Wednesday’s practice at The Auerbach Center in Brighton. He’s saving that spicy meatball for just ahead of game time Thursday night.
But chances are, Brown will be riding the pine when the C’s tip things off against the Knicks, and that’s the right move for Stevens. It doesn’t help Brown’s cause that the Celtics won all three games he missed, with Marcus Smart providing a much-needed spark in the starting five. The Celtics have looked like the team everyone expected them to be over the last week, and in professional fashion, Brown doesn’t want his return to mess with their chemistry.
In all likelihood though, he probably doesn’t have a choice. Stevens would be crazy to mess with what’s working as of late, and Brown knows this.
“I believe in my ability. The coaching staff believes in my ability. If coming off bench makes sense; people make it a bigger deal than it really is. At end of the day it’s basketball,” Brown said Wednesday. “[Gordon] Hayward came off the bench and had 30 points [Saturday night in Minnesota]. It’s a mindset, it’s a choice.”
Brown started all 70 games he played in last season and each of his 19 games to open the 2018-19 season, so he certainly has a hunger to be back in the starting five. But he also has plenty of experience coming off the bench as well, serving as a bench player for 58 games during his rookie season. A hamstring injury last postseason forced him to come off the bench in three games against the 76ers; Brown averaged 12.3 points and 5.3 rebounds over 25.6 minutes in those games.
“[It’s just] coming out and having the right mindset and just coming out and playing basketball,” Brown said of coming off the bench. “I think it will take care of itself.”
Brown struggled mightily to start the season, which was the case for just about everyone in a Celtics uniform, but he appeared to be turning things around leading up to the injury. Brown dropped 16 points on 7-for-9 shooting on the Mavericks before taking his nasty spill, making a point to attack the basket more than he had been to start the season.
“I’m not the best player, but I play with passion, heart, fire, and enthusiasm. Everyone makes mistakes; I make mistakes. But why I’ve had success here is I continue to have the energy,” he said.
Brown added that the rest from this back injury allowed other bumps and bruises to heal up, so he’s extremely confident that his health issues are in the past. He isn’t sure if he’ll be on a minutes restriction in his return, but will follow any plan the Celtics’ training staff lays out for him.
Given how the Celtics have played over their last three games, it wouldn’t be wise for Stevens to shy away from what’s working. That means Brown will be coming off the bench until further notice. As long as it means the Celtics keep playing their winning brand of basketball, the third-year guard will be OK with his lessened role.