Professional athletes are creatures of habit. But sometimes switching things up can help them unlock a new level.
Jaylen Brown has worn a black facemask in every game since the mid-February All-Star break to protect a facial fracture he suffered on Feb. 8. After starting Sunday's Game 4 in Atlanta a brutal 1-for-7, however, Brown decided enough was enough, ditching the mask out of a timeout just three minutes into the second quarter.
Celtics Talk POSTGAME POD: MASK OFF... Celtics bounce back to take commanding 3-1 series lead | Listen & Subscribe
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"After the timeout, were looking for Jaylen and couldn't find him because he didn't have his mask on," Marcus Smart joked after the game. "I was like, 'Where's he at?'"
Brown quickly made his presence felt.
Unencumbered by his plastic face-wear, Brown flipped a switch on offense, driving to the basket with an aggression he hadn't displayed since Game 1 of this first-round series.
Brown also stepped up his shot-making, going 11-for-15 (and 3-of-3 from 3-point range) post-mask to tie Jayson Tatum with a game-high 31 points in Boston's 129-121 win.
All but two of Brown's 31 points came mask-less.
"I don't know, maybe it was all in my head," Brown said after the victory, which gave the Celtics a commanding 3-1 series lead. "I just needed something different when I took it off. It just gave me the edge I needed."
After dropping 29 points in a Game 1 victory, Brown was held to 18 points in Game 2 and 15 points in Game 3, perhaps hindered by the stitches in his right hand from a laceration. He looked somewhat tentative to start Game 4, as well -- before ditching the mask and his offensive struggles with it.
"I saw just his poise," head coach Joe Mazzulla said of Brown's Game 4 effort. "I thought he did a great job making plays at the rim, operating in space, playing off two feet, making the right play.
"To me he showed just tremendous poise, especially on the offensive end. He had the ball in his hands making plays for himself and others."
The Celtics have gotten key offensive contributions from Smart, Derrick White and Malcolm Brogdon in this series to make up for Brown's quiet nights. But that's against a Hawks defense that ranked 26th in the NBA this season. If the C's want to get past the likes of the Philadelphia 76ers and Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference, they'll need Brown playing at his peak on both ends.
That means Brown will have to sacrifice extra peace of mind for the sake of extra buckets going forward -- despite his mom's insistence.