Jaylen Brown set the tone early in the Boston Celtics’ Friday evening victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers. The bouncy young wing scored the teams first 7 points, finishing the quarter with 12, and chipping in 2 rebounds and 2 assists for good measure. Brown handed the reins to Jayson Tatum in the second. He didn’t disappoint.
Tatum shredded the Cavaliers defense with a series of step back three-pointers, heading into the half with 24 points on 9-for-13 shooting, including an impressive 4-for-6 from beyond the arc. He and Brown would take turns pouring in points against a porous Cleveland defense throughout the remainder of the game.
Tatum finished the evening with 30. Brown notched 34, tying his career high. Together the pair shot an incredibly efficient 24-for-40 from the field and 10-for-20 from deep.
When Boston saw a big lead begin to dry up in the fourth quarter, it was Brown who pushed them back into a comfortable position, drilling back to back three-point shots on consecutive possessions.
He downplayed his performance after the game.
“I’m thinking about the next game,” Brown told NBC Sports’ Abby Chin after the game. “We got a big game coming up tomorrow, back-to-back. I haven’t played as well as I’ve wanted to on back-to-backs, so hopefully we can get another win.”
He credited his and Tatum’s success - the most recent in a series of big performances from the two this year - to a focus on mindset and a willingness to collaborate with one another.
“[We’re] just trying to be aggressive. That’s it really. JT [Jayson Tatum] is a great player. I’m playing off him. He’s playing off me. We’re just trying to be the best versions of ourselves really, and see how far we can take this thing.”
At the moment the sky appears to be the limit. Brown and Tatum have both elevated their games, taking on central roles for a Celtics team that currently sits in second place in the Eastern Conference. It’s a reality that Boston envisioned years ago when it first paired their precocious wings.
At the start of their time together the duo functioned as something of mirror opposites . Brown was the uber-athlete, desperately in need of polish and sparse on touch. Tatum was the old soul, expertly skilled but sporting a body in need of development. Over the course of the past three years, each has begun to adopt qualities of the other, and now both players are impactful two-way forces, possessing the skill and athleticism needed to function as stars.
“We’ve known [they were special] from the moment that they stepped on the court when they first started games together,” head coach Brad Stevens told reporters after the game. “You could see it was pretty unique. When we drafted Jayson, we thought being able to have those two versatile wings that could guard a number of positions and do a number of different things, but also weren’t exactly the same player, would be good complements for each other.”
That’s proven to be the case throughout the early season, so much so that Brown and Tatum are prime candidates to represent the Celtics at this year’s All-Star Game. They can count on the vote of at least one of their teammates.
“I think one thing that makes them so special is that they’re just not making themselves better, they make everyone else better around them,” Enes Kanter told reporters after the game. “That’s something that makes them really special. Obviously, please don’t forget to vote for Tatum and Brown [as All-Stars]”