Earlier in the 2021-22 NBA season, Boston Celtics fans wondered about Jaylen Brown’s future with the franchise. The C’s struggled to build momentum through the first few months, with speculation building about the efficacy of Brown’s partnership with Jayson Tatum.
However, Boston stayed the course and is now the hottest team in basketball. It all started with a tweet from Brown.
Despite all the early-season drama, Brown never wavered in his belief that the Celtics could turn a corner. He stated as much at the end of January, suggesting Boston was about to go on a run.
Now, the Celtics practically can’t lose.
Jaylen Brown sent a hopeful message to Celtics fans at the end of January
On the morning of Jan. 31, the Celtics carried a 26-25 record and were struggling to build momentum.
Boston had just come off a win against the New Orleans Pelicans two nights prior. But the C’s were just 9-6 for the month after going 6-9 in December. With teams bunching atop the Eastern Conference standings, head coach Ime Udoka’s crew needed a spark.
Brown provided just that.
The 25-year-old took to Twitter with a simple message: “The energy is about to shift.” It seemed symbolic of Brown’s perseverance in the face of adversity.
Questions about Brown’s ability to coexist with Jayson Tatum permeated the locker room. Although the star duo had a demonstrated track record of success in Beantown and consistently denied the notion they could not play together, skepticism abounded.
But the Celtics blocked out the noise and focused on playing better basketball. And since Brown fired off that tweet, the C’s are on a remarkable run.
The Celtics are 17-3 since the tweet
Rather than enter panic mode and trade away all their assets before the Feb. 10 trade deadline, the Celtics buckled down. Indeed, as Jaylen Brown stated, the energy has shifted.
Boston is 17-3 in its last 20 games. According to NBA.com, the Celtics have the best net rating (15.1) in the league during that stretch. They are 5.1 points per 100 possessions better than the Phoenix Suns, who have the second-best net rating in the NBA since Jan. 31.
It starts with defense. Boston has the best defensive rating in basketball (103.0) in the last 20 games. Marcus Smart and Robert Williams demand respect as Defensive Player of the Year candidates. Deadline acquisition Derrick White gives the Celtics more toughness in the defensive backcourt.
But the offense has also started to kick into high gear.
Brown hasn’t shot the ball all that well during Boston’s hot streak. He’s converted just over 31% of his three-pointers in his last 14 games. However, his teammates have picked up the slack.
Tatum has stormed his way into the All-NBA conversation, averaging 31.3 points, 7.7 rebounds, and 4.5 assists in his last 15 appearances. His shot-creation and playmaking have been on another. That’s made Smart’s job easier as a pure point guard.
Others are also making an impact. Al Horford is quietly having a terrific season as a guy who can shoot, rebound, and orchestrate the offense from the perimeter. Grant Williams’ floor-spacing and remarkable efficiency have been vital, as have his growing juice off the dribble.
Entering Sunday’s game with the Denver Nuggets, the Celtics are the No. 4 seed in the East and just one game back of the No. 2-seeded Philadelphia 76ers. How much higher can Boston climb?
Brown plays a pivotal role in Boston’s championship hopes
The Celtics’ defensive versatility and connectivity bode well come playoff time. They’ve proven themselves capable of shutting down high-powered offenses.
Can Boston score enough?
Tatum is on a heater, but opposing teams will eventually shrink the court and make things tougher on him by sending help defenders. If the Celtics hope to counter, then Brown needs to get going.
The All-Star guard has consistently preached a “one game at a time mindset.” At some point, though, he’ll have to take matters into his own hands.
Brown must find a better rhythm from beyond the arc. He could also show more caution with the ball in his hands, as he’s averaging a career-high 2.8 turnovers and has been especially prone to giveaways as of late. Much of that stems from hurried decision-making and failing to keep his handle tight to the dribbling pocket.
Still, given everything he and his teammates have been through this season, it wouldn’t be the least bit surprising to see Brown close the season with a flurry. That would surely be a welcome sight for Celtics fans, who have to feel excited about their team’s chances come playoff time.
Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference unless otherwise noted.