Jaylen Brown returns for Boston Celtics, says hamstring good but not 100% just yet

BOSTON -- Celtics star Jaylen Brown returned after missing eight games with a hamstring strain to score 19 points in 23 minutes in Boston's 108-90 victory over the hapless Houston Rockets on Monday night.

"It felt good to be back out there, just being with my teammates and competing," Brown said after shooting 6-for-13 from the field, including 3-for-6 from 3-point range. "I didn't feel my best out there. I felt good going all the way up until the game, then I had a little bit of tightness. We'll see how it feels tomorrow and keep building. I wasn't super happy with how my body felt. We're working through it."

Celtics coach Ime Udoka had said Brown was pushing to come back last week to play both in his hometown of Atlanta against the Hawks, and then again Friday on national television here against Boston's forever rivals, the Los Angeles Lakers. Ultimately, though, a more cautious approach was adopted, with Brown taking another full week before stepping back onto the court.

"Just trusting the medical staff and the team to find ways to get better," Brown said. "This is a little bit of a nagging injury. I've had a hamstring injury a few times now. This one seems to be lingering a little bit.

"But I think that in the next coming days, I'll get back to feeling 100%, and we'll get back to adding some wins. This group has played extremely well while I've been out. I've seen a lot of steps forward from a lot of guys that makes me excited about our potential. I just want to continue to add value, play off those guys and keep winning games."

Boston, which has now won eight of its last 11, found itself in a dogfight early with the Rockets, who have lost 15 straight and are an NBA-worst 1-16. But after going scoreless in the first quarter, Brown hit a jumper from the top of the key midway through the second, forcing Houston to call timeout. He then got a fast-break layup and a 3-pointer on back-to-back possessions as part of a 16-2 run that put the Celtics ahead for good.

Brown scored another 10 straight points midway through the third quarter, hitting a pair of free throws and a layup before burying back-to-back 3-pointers to force another Houston timeout. That was part of a 24-2 run to begin the second half for Boston that rendered the final 15 minutes of the game inconsequential.

"He looked good," Udoka said. "Early in the game, it looked like he took a little time to get warm, get up and down. As much as he's worked and rehabbed and played with some of the coaches and likewise, it's nothing like an actual game out there, so it took a little bit of time.

"He got warm and then went on that flurry in the third quarter. He said it still doesn't feel normal, but to have him back in that third quarter, and see what he did, was a great sign."

The Celtics (10-8) also got back Robert Williams (knee), who had two points, 15 rebounds and a blocked shot in 23 minutes. However, Josh Richardson sat out with a non-COVID illness.

It was in keeping with what has been the dominant theme of the season for Boston, which has been dealing with a rotating cast of players going on and off the shelf since Brown and Al Horford tested positive for COVID-19 during training camp.

Those cascading absences are something first-year coach Udoka acknowledged before the game has impacted his attempts to build chemistry with his roster.

"We haven't had a ton of continuity all year, so that doesn't change much because guys have been in and out," Udoka said. "But [Jaylen is] a guy that also knows his role and we have sets for him and he's going to come out and be aggressive. So it's pretty easy for him to find his spots, but more so with other guys getting used to him getting back and him getting used to what we've been doing in the time he's been gone."

The Celtics face the Brooklyn Nets at TD Garden on Wednesday (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN), then play seven of their next eight on the road. The goal now for Brown and the Celtics is to establish some consistency with what they hope will be a full complement of their roster.

"Just continue to build on the things coach keeps harping on and playing with more pace on offense, making sure that we're moving the ball better," Horford said. "We did a much better job of that in the second half tonight. That's the one thing, and then defensively, I feel like we've been playing good defense, so continue to stay tight on that and harp on that part."