On Saturday night, the Boston Celtics played their fiercest rivals, the Los Angeles Lakers. LA came into Boston as the defending champions, having equaled the Celtics at the top of the NBA record books with 17 titles. The game delivered, as it came down to the final shot from Boston falling off the rim as time expired, giving the Lakers a one-point victory.
Of course, the NBA’s best duo of LeBron James and Anthony Davis led the way for Los Angeles with a combined 48 points, 21 rebounds and nine assists. With some solid performances from their role players, the Lakers came away with a win.
However, what really caught the eye was Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown on the other side of the court. The younger duo outplayed their celebrated counter-parts. Tatum and Brown combined for 58 points on 25-of-37 shooting. With a little more help from their friends, Boston may have come away with the win.
Tatum and Brown stepping up big against a LeBron James-led team should be no surprise. They’ve been doing it for years now, going back to the 2018 Eastern Conference Finals.
In that series a 20-year-old rookie Tatum and a 21-year-old second-year Brown, pushed the Cavaliers to a Game 7. And they pushed that Game 7 all the way down to the end.
For the series, James averaged 33.6 points, 9.0 rebounds and 8.4 assists. Brown and Tatum didn’t approach his greatness individually, but as a duo they were right there.
Brown went for 19.7 points and 4.9 rebounds, while Tatum scored 17.9 points and grabbed 4.1 rebounds. Only a very rough shooting night in Game 7 kept Boston from making it back to the NBA Finals for the first time since 2010.
It was at this point that the rookie Tatum, who had been very good all season long, made it known he was THAT guy:
That was the point where Celtics fans should have known Tatum and Brown could lead the way to Boston’s 18th title. But in case anyone has forgotten, they’ve continually reminded the world since.
On Saturday, it was yet another chance to step up on the big stage in a nationally televised Saturday showcase game. And yet again Tatum and Brown delivered, as they have all season.
In their third and fourth years respectively. Tatum and Brown are hitting scoring markers we rarely see from a duo. Tatum is scoring 26.8 points per game on 48/44/83 shooting splits. Brown is at 27.1 points per game on 53/44/76 shooting splits. Their combined 53.9 points per game would make them one of the higher-scoring single-season duos of all-time.
It’s more than just the points, as important as those may be, Brown and Tatum are getting it done in other ways. Brown has easily topped his career-high with 3.5 assists per game, and he’s grabbing 5.4 rebounds per night. Tatum is building on his good passing from the second half of last season with a career-best 3.7 assists a night, and he’s equaled his career-high with 7.0 rebounds per contest. Beyond that, both are good defenders. Brown and Tatum are capable of defending anyone 2-4 and can also hold their own on switches against most point guards and centers too.
As good as their regular season play has been over the past few season, both Brown and Tatum have tended to step things up in the playoffs. And they’ve been there every year, with Brown making it to the Eastern Conference Finals in three of four years, and Tatum in two of his three seasons. All total, Brown has appeared in 61 postseason games over four seasons and Tatum has played in 45.
Yet, question still lingered. While Tatum has looked the part of an ace, could he really make the leap to the superstar level necessary to win a championship? Brown had established himself as a great third guy, and potentially a pretty good second banana, but could he lift himself to 1A status alongside Tatum? The answer to both of those question is now a definitive yes.
The flashes of greatness Tatum and Brown used to show are now just mundane excellence from night to night. It’s no longer a surprise to see either player put up a big scoring night, as each has set and then re-set their career-highs in the past two seasons. A high-scoring quarter with points in the high teens or even twenties? Sure. Hitting big shots at the end of games? Been there, done that.
Tatum and Brown are here now. They’re stars that are banging on the door to superstardom. To make that final step, they’ll have to get to the NBA Finals for the first time.
The Celtics duo is good enough to make that leap and to lead a team there, but they can’t do it by themselves. They need some help from their friends. If Kemba Walker can stay healthy and find his rhythm, that’s one question answered. If Brad Stevens can figure out his big man rotation and find the right mix, that’s another box checked. Maybe one or two of the younger players develops into the needed key rotation player or players off the bench. That last one is the most questionable of all.
For the Celtics to truly compete for Banner 18, Danny Ainge may need to bolster this roster via trade. It’s hard to give up on young kids. After all, where would Boston be had they traded Tatum or Brown? But the foundation for a title team is in place. It’s time to fill out the house with functional elements that can play a part now. No more keeping items on layaway, hoping they’ll fit in a design scheme that never comes.
That may mean swallowing hard and moving on from some of the kids on the bench. Maybe they blow up and become All-Stars. If they do, so be it. As long as the players brought in for them contribute to a title run, no will care if Romeo Langford, Grant Williams or Robert Williams becomes a star.
Boston is about banners. In Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, the Celtics have the guys to lead the team to #18. It’s now about giving them a roster worthy of making history alongside their greatness.
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