Celtics

‘I could hear my heartbeat’: Jaylen Brown scores 46 in return from COVID-19

"He's a hooper, man."

Jaylen Brown scored a career high the Celtics' season-opening loss to the Knicks. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

The Celtics dropped their season opener to the Knicks 138-134 on Wednesday, but Jaylen Brown impressed in his return from COVID-19.

Brown nearly helped the Celtics steal a win, dropping a career-high 46 points as Jayson Tatum struggled and was instrumental in the late push that sent the game to overtime.

Brown’s biggest shot was a deep 3-pointer that trimmed the Celtics’ deficit to one in the closing seconds of regulation and set the stage for Marcus Smart’s heroics as time expired.

But Brown’s stellar performance started early. In the first quarter, Brown dropped 20 points on a flurry of 3-pointers that helped the Celtics build an early lead.

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“He came out firing,” Celtics coach Ime Udoka said. “We wanted to get him a shorter stint early. He was playing so well, we didn’t want to take away his momentum, but at times in the game, we still were cognizant of that and trying to find him a break here and there. But he was rolling.”

The first quarter was the big one, but Brown never really slowed down. He added nine points in the second and third quarters, and he was instrumental in the fourth — dropping 10 points as the Celtics rallied back, including two powerful layups. On the first, he split a pick-and-roll and snaked through several Knicks defenders. On the second, he went shoulder to shoulder with Knicks wing R.J. Barrett and came out with two points on a nifty finger roll.

Understandably, Brown’s energy flagged in the overtime periods. At one point, he poked away a steal and went to the hoop for what would have been a crucial dunk, but he couldn’t gather his legs enough to get in the air and he missed off the front rim. Brown called the play “kind of embarrassing.”

“Obviously we missed some easy ones,” Udoka said. “The layups and dunks, we’re going to knock those down.”

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But the rest of his performance was everything the Celtics could have asked for, particularly as Tatum bricked 23 shots – finishing 7-for-30 from the field.

“[Brown] carried us tonight,” Tatum said. “The plays he was making, the shots he was hitting, he was unbelievable. I wish I could have done my part to help him out tonight, but it happens like that sometimes.”

Brown, who told reporters before the game that the Celtics provided him with an inhaler, did feel some lingering effects from COVID-19 — most notably his breath (which felt “a little irregular”) and his heart.

“Once we got to the end of the first overtime, going into the second one, I could hear my heartbeat,” Brown said. “Tried to do my best to breathe and stuff like that, but for the most part I felt fine, to be honest. Coming out of quarantine, played 46 minutes, I think I did okay from a physical standpoint.

“Being away from the team that long, it’s always a risk of injury coming back, high-level intensity, the Garden, New York, a physical team, I think my body held up well.”

Even given Brown’s recent bout with COVID, Celtics center Robert Williams wasn’t surprised by Brown’s performance.

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“He’s a hooper, man,” Williams said. “He is a pure hooper. He is a bucket. He loves the game. … I expected nothing less.”

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