BOSTON — Boston Celtics wing Jaylen Brown had just given Celtics reporters an update on his health prior to the team’s shootaround in Denver — his plantar fasciitis was bothering him, but he planned to play against the Nuggets — when MassLive sat down with him briefly to talk about the team’s overall struggles shooting the ball.
The line of questioning was general — what can the team do to improve? Are there better shots available? But Brown went his own direction in his answers, discussing his own failings.
“I’m not even counting the misses, I’m counting the makes,” Brown said at the time. “Focusing on that, because if you start focusing on misses, you start digging yourself into a hole. Just focus on the positive aspects of the game, and what you can do better. I call it an ‘Applaud Your Mistakes’ mentality. You come out there and look forward to the next play and keep going, rather than worrying about plays you missed or opportunities you missed, because then it’ll affect you during the game. So just come out and play basketball and think about the next play and be ready for the next one. …
“I’ve been playing basketball my whole entire life. I know how to hoop. It’s a different situation, but at the end of the day, it’s just basketball. So take the pressure off, just go out there and play, have fun, win games and ultimately that’s what matters. “
Brown seemed frustrated with himself, and one could understand why. He put in a long summer of work, after which he expected to develop as a playmaker and facilitator. But the shot he crafted the summer previously was failing him: Through 12 games, Brown was well below 30 percent from three, and he hovered around 50 percent in the restricted area. At times, he appeared to be forcing the issue when he got offensive opportunities, and the results were ugly offensive numbers.
After a rough 1-4 road trip, the Celtics needed to regroup, and Brown was no exception. The Chicago Bulls, a truly abysmal basketball team, couldn’t have arrived at a better time.
“We’ll take it,” Brown said after the 111-82 win, sounding more relieved than anything.
Brown’s performance in the first two quarters recalled last season, when he broke out. For lengthy stretches during the playoffs, he was perhaps Boston’s best player — a two-way weapon who spaced the floor and got to the rim. But adding Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward back into the mix seemed to leave Brown struggling to find his role on a hyper-talented team.
“I’ve been watching a lot of film over the last week,” Brown said. “Just taking my time. Sometimes I can be in a rush or being overaggressive. Just taking my time and making the right reads. The ball will find you if you’re playing the game the right way. So just continuing to play that way on both sides of the ball. Being dominant on defense and aggressive on offense, so everything will take care of itself.”
The aggressive mindset paid dividends. After air-balling his first shot — a mid-range baseline jumper off the catch, which is quietly one of the hardest shots in basketball — Brown attacked Justin Holliday out of the pick-and-roll, powering to the hoop for a nice reverse layup.
His next basket was a run-out dunk in transition. Then the Celtics ran the exact same hand-off/pick-and-roll set for Brown against Zach LaVine, with similar results — Brown cashed in a short jumper.
Those easy baskets seemed to set Brown back on course. He finished 8-for-14 from the field and 2-for-4 from three with 18 points, and perhaps no player looked more transformed by the opportunity to regroup.
“Jaylen can get to the rim at any time,” Brad Stevens said. “I think the biggest thing is continuing to not only finish with strength but continue to make the right reads. I think he has improved in that, and our whole team can still get a lot better at that. Not Jaylen, but we had multiple other guys who missed quite a bit at the rim, and we need to be able to convert those. But it is good at least we are able to get there a little more. that’s a positive.”
On Tuesday, Brown told reporters prior to practice he believes the payoff will be worth all the struggles for the Celtics.
“I think what’s on the other end of this will be good,” Brown said. “So we just have to continue to stay with it, keep fighting, and not lose hope, and continue to get better.”
For essentially the entire Celtics team, but perhaps especially Brown, Wednesday’s win was a step in the right direction.