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BOSTON – Before embarking on a five-game West Coast trip Dec. 3, the Boston Celtics had won 10 of their previous 15 games and were rising in the Eastern Conference standings. However, when Jaylen Brown reaggravated his right hamstring Dec. 1 against Philadelphia, their course shifted in the wrong direction.
Now, with Brown set to return to the lineup tonight against Milwaukee, the hope is that their course will shift back in the right direction.
Without Brown for the entire trip, Boston lost four out of five on the road. Two of those losses were decided by three possessions or fewer, in which Brown's scoring ability and defensive presence could have made all the difference.
Fortunately for the Celtics, Brown’s absence will no longer be an issue when they return home tonight to face the defending-champion Milwaukee Bucks. Following a five-game absence, he will return to the starting lineup to help his team pick up where it left off prior to heading out West, as it attempts to take down Giannis Antetokounmpo and the red-hot Bucks.
“Jaylen has definitely been missed,” said backcourt mate Marcus Smart following Monday morning’s shoortaround in Brighton. “I know Jaylen has definitely missed us and wanted to get out there and go to war with us. It’s good to have our brother back … Just another guy that can put the ball in the hole for us, another body for us and that we need out there. That's gonna be huge for us.”
Having Brown back not only adds another 20-point scorer into the mix, but could also act as a curveball that throws the opposition off balance. Smart pointed out that since Brown has missed more than half the season, most opposing teams haven’t had to factor him into their game plan. Plus, a player coming back from injury could be underestimated since it takes some longer than others to work their way back to full speed.
“It's a different look that teams haven't seen because he's been out,” Smart said. “They kind of ease up – and I'm not saying that they can forget about Jaylen and his impact to the game – but when a guy's coming back off an injury you haven't seen in a while you kind of put him in the back of your mind until he's out there and he does something that reminds you why you shouldn't forget that. He’s gonna be a good pickup for us.”
After observing Brown’s ramp-up process over the past week during practices and shootarounds, Smart is under the impression that it won’t take long for Brown to get back into the swing of things.
Brown said Sunday afternoon that he was feeling like himself again, and his teammate can back that up.
“It looks like he's back, looks like he's fine,” said Smart. “He's out there dunking and running, doing all the things that we expect Jaylen to do. So it’s definitely a sight for us to see and it's a good one. But ultimately, it comes down to how Jaylen feels and putting him in a game situation is different than coming out here (at practice) and everything scripted for you. Being able to react and letting your body react on its own instincts – when it's time to do that, I think that’s where the real test comes in. And we're gonna find out tonight.”