Forsberg: Jaylen Brown's refreshed mindset already paying dividends originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
The fact that Jaylen Brown scored a career-high 46 points in a career-high 46 minutes — all on a night when the team planned to "manage" his minutes coming off a bout with COVID — was simply absurd.
But here’s one reason we were not completely stunned that Brown produced a monster night in Boston’s season-opener: Brown has emitted a noticeable energy early in the new season, a palpable positivity about the new campaign and the opportunity in front of him.
So the after-effects of COVID-19 that have weighed so heavy on others were simply not going to deter Brown from embracing the Madison Square Garden stage. Brown helped the Celtics make a furious fourth-quarter surge to force a pair of overtimes before falling to the New York Knicks 138-134.
There are no silver linings in losses. Jayson Tatum turned in a dud, Marcus Smart tried to do too much at times, Dennis Schroder had some “tuff" defensive lapses (to use one of Schroder’s trademark phrases), and the Celtics as a whole let go of the rope just long enough in the second half to complicate simply making the game interesting again.
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But Brown helped Boston hang around early with his improbable hot start, then gave them a chance to sneak out with a win after a crazy logo 3-pointer late in regulation. Brown’s outlook on the season might have helped him despite the circumstances.
This Celtics-Knicks opener had no shortage of storylines, including Kemba Walker going up against his former team. (Ironically, it was Evan Fournier who produced the real revenge game.) But we found it interesting to hear how Brown talked about Walker in the ramp to the opener.
"It was such a joy having Kemba around,” Brown said on Wednesday morning. "For me, he was one of the people I drew inspiration from … He was always somebody who, despite the circumstances, despite however I felt, he was always somebody that was just like, ‘Be patient, you’re fine, your time is coming,’ etcetera.
"He was always that person in my ear giving me motivation. He was always that person who was trying to put a smile on my face, telling me, like, ‘It’s not that serious,’ making jokes because I can get pretty intense.
"But Kemba was a great guy and a great friend to me, like an older brother. So I definitely miss him. I miss his energy.”
It’s admittedly a super small sample, but Brown has brought a Kemba-like positivity to the early portion of the 2021-22 season. At Media Day, Brown couldn’t stop smiling and gushing about the season ahead. When NBC Sports Boston huddled Tatum and Brown for a joint interview, Brown’s easy-going — and joke-heavy — nature helped disarm the quieter Tatum.
And Brown’s positivity was on display again after Wednesday’s loss. Operating like the world’s most mature 24-year-old, Brown downplayed his performance (“Do what?” he asked when first quizzed about his big night). He lamented his missed dunk attempt in the second overtime that could have helped Boston steal the win.
And, despite the sting of the loss, Brown keep an optimistic outlook. At one point he noted, “I’m excited. I’m excited for this team and this journey. I loved our resiliency tonight.”
He went on to praise Marcus Smart (who had some rough patches but hit the overtime-forcing 3-pointer at the end of regulation), Romeo Langford, and Robert Williams. Brown noted how he missed opportunities to get others the ball while absolving Tatum of any blame for not being more deferential with a potential game-winning shot on a night when Tatum finished a woeful 7-of-30 shooting overall.
Again, the Celtics should not celebrate a missed opportunity. They had multiple chances to win this game. But given the frustrating nature of recent seasons, and a fumbled chance in Game 1 of the new campaign, Brown’s demeanor seemed notable.
Brown and Tatum are undeniably the faces of the franchise now. While Smart and Al Horford can provide veteran leadership and be strong voices for this team, it’s essential that Brown and Tatum continue to grow in that role.
Beyond his perpetual growth on the court, Brown is maturing off of it, too. Having to watch the 2021 playoffs from the sideline while recovering from season-ending wrist surgery might have increased his appreciation for his situation. Maybe it allowed him to take a Kemba-like approach and simply embrace the opportunity in front of him.
His postgame comments echoed something Brown said on Media Day.
“Man, I’m about to be 25, I’m getting old,” said Brown. “This is year six for me. I’m excited. I’m ready. I’m looking forward to the challenge. I’m looking forward to everything about this year.”
Yes, Brown is embracing the bumps in the road. He’s embracing the challenges. He’s embracing the journey. A new season is a new canvas. And Brown seems eager to fill it with positivity, even when things go bad.
Scoring 46 points in 46 minutes after spending most of the past 10 days in quarantine is one hell of a way to start the story of the 2021-22 season. But it’s only Chapter 1 and Brown knows there’s a lot more twists and turns ahead in this story.
His ability to stay positive through it all could help dictate the tenor of the story overall.