Even less than two hours tip-off Thursday night, Joe Mazzulla was reluctant to give anything away, but the worst-kept secret in Boston was soon revealed.
Jaylen Brown, after missing the Celtics’ last three games with a right adductor strain, officially returned for Thursday’s highly-anticipated NBA Finals rematch against the Warriors at TD Garden.
There was little doubt Brown – who suffered the injury during his 41-point performance in last Wednesday’s win over the Pelicans – was returning given the circumstances of the rematch and especially how good he looked during Wednesday’s practice at the Auerbach Center, where he went through an individual workout with coaching and team staff after practice and didn’t look to be held back.
Brown passed his last check during morning shoot-around and was cleared to return about 75 minutes before Thursday’s tip. The Celtics star said there wasn’t any extra motivation to return because of the rematch but he had a clear appetite to be back.
“I think that (Thursday) could be a big one for us to continue to keep things rolling, got seven in a row, you want to keep trending upwards, trying to create a little bit of separation from the rest of the East and the rest of the league,” Brown said Wednesday. “But, from the organization’s side, there’s no incentive for them to get me back tomorrow. They want to make sure that I’m just healthy, overall, in general. But, if I can go, I’m going.”
Brown started alongside Jayson Tatum, Marcus Smart, Al Horford and Robert Williams. It was the first time that unit – which was last season’s starting five – has started a game together this season.
Brown surges in ASG voting
The Celtics’ two likely All-Stars continued to be in good standing in the last round of All-Star Game fan voting that was released by the NBA on Thursday. Tatum stayed in third among Eastern Conference frontcourt players as he increased his cushion over Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid, while Jaylen Brown moved ahead of James Harden for third among East guards.
Fan voting will conclude this Saturday at 11:59 p.m. It accounts for 50% of the vote to determine the game’s starters, with current NBA players and a media panel making up 25% of the vote each.
All-Star Game starters will be announced next Thursday and revealed at 7 p.m. on TNT. The game is on Feb. 19 in Salt Lake City.
A universal fit
Count Warriors coach Steve Kerr among those who have been impressed with Malcolm Brogdon, who has transitioned perfectly with the Celtics this season and looks like the piece they were missing during last year’s NBA Finals, when their lack of productive bench play cost them. Brogdon entered Thursday averaging 14.1 points per game and 3.7 assists while shooting a career-high 45.4 percent from 3-point range.
“He would fit on any team, just because he can dribble, pass and shoot,” Kerr said. “He knows how to do each one. Big, strong defender, can guard multiple spots. He’s a basketball player. He’s really fun to watch. I’ve always admired him from a far and enjoyed watching him play. A great fit for them because he’s a connector and they have a lot of scoring threats and he can supplement the scoring or he connect the scoring and get the ball to other guys. He’s a really good player.”
Shoes for a cause
The shoes that Brown wore in the Warriors’ championship-clinching victory in Boston last June and then wore during workouts last summer and in the Celtics’ loss to the Warriors last month in San Francisco, are being given away for a good cause.
Brown said the shoes were on sale recently at a charity gala for his 7uice Foundation but was hopeful to raise more money by putting them on sale on the foundation’s website.
“I had them at my charity gala for sale but the highest offer we had was maybe a couple thousand dollars,” Brown said. “And I was like, ‘We’re just gonna save these. I’m not letting these get (away).’ I was like, ‘Mom, we’re just going to save these.’ So I think they’re on my foundation website or they’re going to be there shortly for anybody who’s interested in maybe donating some money to get a pair of sneakers that will go to a good cause.” …
The Celtics held a pregame moment of silence for the late Chris Ford, who died earlier this week. Ford, a former C’s player and coach, was a member of three championship teams in Boston.