BOSTON — Jaylen Brown said on Wednesday it was the move he would make with the Celtics on a three-game win streak.
Celtics coach Brad Stevens made it official before Thursday night’s game against the New York Knicks at TD Garden that he agreed with the third-year guard as he sent Brown to the bench and stuck with Marcus Smart and Marcus Morris in the starting lineup as Brown returned from missing the last three games with a bruised tailbone.
“He came off the bench last year in the playoffs coming off an injury,” Stevens reasoned. “It’s nothing all that new to him. The biggest thing coming off the bench is not trying to do it all right when you get in the game. Just bring a great deal of readiness to take advantage of your opportunities. That’s especially true for guys who have been in and out of the starting lineup, generally.
“But he’ll do a great job with that. Regardless of where our guys play, we need them to play at a high level for our team to be successful.”
Brown said before missing last Friday’s game against Cleveland that he would be fine coming off the bench if the Celtics were winning. They then blew out the Cavaliers by 33 points that night before extending the win streak to three with a 118-109 triumph in Minnesota.
“I believe in my ability,” Brown said after Wednesday’s practice. “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. [Gordon] Hayward came off the bench and had 30 points [Saturday night].
“It's a mindset. It's a choice.”
Brown indicated on Wednesday that his mind has had time to clear with the time off after an uneven start to the season.
“I don't think I'm the best player — but I play with passion,” he said. “I play with heart.
“It took a moment to kind of figure things out. Now with the injuries [behind me], it's time to get back to being myself, and time to get back to helping the Celtics do what we're capable of.”
Stevens said before Thursday’s game he was impressed with the way Brown handled the injury and the likelihood of a changing role upon his return.
“He’s a really bright guy,” Stevens said. “He was really engaged with all the prep for all those games. It wasn’t a situation where a guy was out and he wasn’t necessarily paying attention because he knew he wasn’t going to play for a while. He was really locked into it.
“First and foremost, at his core, Jaylen is a competitive guy. Winning is really important to him. I think anytime you have that you’re willing to do whatever it takes for the good of the team.”
Five-time All-Star Kyrie Irving said on Wednesday that one of the team’s issues at the beginning of the season was “responding selfishly” to some of the coach’s requests and that “everyone was in their own heads.”
He added that Stevens has been more definitive in what he wants in recent weeks, and that the players have been “responding the right way.”
“It’s not how each individual can play,” Stevens responded to that assessment on Thursday. “It’s how you function as a team. Our functioning wasn’t good early. It’s getting better lately. But it’s got to get better."
While the perception has been that the Celtics have vastly underachieved this season, compared with the start of last year when they vastly overachieved during a 16-game win streak, Stevens said he was surprised that some of the analytics reveal a different story.
“I just looked at our offensive and defensive numbers,” he said, “and both numbers are better than last year, which kind of took me back because it doesn’t feel that way. I think our offense can get a lot better. I think our defense has shown some issues.”
Rookie Robert Williams was assigned to the Maine Red Claws of the G-League on Thursday, but did not suit up for the game against the Oklahoma City Blue.
“He is excused,” Stevens confirmed with a bit of a smirk before Thursday’s game. “He is excused by all of us to attend to a personal matter.”