“When one of those guys has a great game, the other one don’t.” - Kendrick Perkins on Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown
The former Celtic and current ESPN and NBC Boston analyst / hot-take artist has made this point throughout the season, believing the two stars have trouble coexisting and rarely play well together. Last Saturday, he tweeted praise for Brown while criticizing Tatum, who felt compelled to respond.
Nobody speculated on the potential fit issues with Tatum and Brown when they won 16 straight games in 2018 or took the Heat to six games in the 2020 conference finals. But after 12 months of playing uninspired .500 basketball, several members of the NBA commentariat have raised the question of whether the Celtics should consider breaking up Brown and Tatum.
They temporarily silenced the doubters with a commanding win over the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday night. Tatum scored 33 while collecting seven boards, four assists, two steals and two blocks. Brown scored 34 and was deadly from deep, hitting 7 of 11 three-point attempts. The Jays shot an identical 11-of-19 from the floor.
Here’s a list of the other times Jayson and Jaylen scored 30 points in the same game:
10/25/21 @ Charlotte (141-130 W)
Tatum: 41 points, 14/28 FG (6/12 3FG)
Brown: 30 points, 12/20 FG (3/7 3FG)
4/28/21 vs Charlotte (120-111 W)
Tatum: 35 points, 12/23 FG (4/10 3FG)
Brown: 38 points, 13/23 FG (7/13 3FG)
12/23/20 vs Milwaukee (122-121 W)
Tatum: 30 points, 12/28 FG (6/13 3FG)
Brown: 33 points, 13/24 FG (3/8 3FG)
8/2/20 vs Portland (128-124 W)
Tatum: 34 points, 11/22 FG (5/8 3FG)
Brown: 30 points, 10/18 FG (6/8 3FG)
12/27/19 vs Cleveland (129-117 W)
Tatum: 30 points, 11/20 FG (5/10 3FG)
Brown: 34 points, 13/20 FG (5/10 3FG)
For those of you counting at home, that’s six total games the duo has each reached 30 points. Six times in 268 regular season games and 44 playoff games.
Call me whatever you want — a negative Nancy, a hater, a buzzkill, an idiot — but I don’t understand why there have been so few instances of them reaching 30 points in the same game. Perk has a point about the duo not playing well together, how they subconsciously play “your turn, my turn” from game-to-game.
Take last week’s awful buzzer-beating loss to New York. Tatum poured in 36 points and 9 assists on 57 percent shooting, while Brown had only 16 points on 43 percent shooting, and didn’t score in the fourth quarter. In their opening season loss to the same Knicks, Brown scored 46 points with nine rebounds and six assists. Although Tatum scored 20, he shot a dreadful 23 percent from the field.
The detractors will point to other games where they each played well but didn’t reach the 30-point threshold. When Tatum scored a season-high 42 in a December 13th win against Milwaukee, Brown scored an efficient 19 points in under 30 minutes of play. The next game against Golden State, the duo only combined for 47 points, but they were competitive with the NBA’s top team, only losing by four points.
Despite all the talk of breaking up this team, Tatum and Brown have publicly supported one another. Tatum said, “we just had a talk about how we both want to be here,” and later commented that “[there aren’t] many players in the league like JB.” Brown reiterated that their playing styles fit, saying, “we have played together well for the majority of our career.”
It’s frustrating watching games like their October 30th loss to the Wizards, when Brown had 34 points on 58 percent shooting while Tatum only shot 31 percent and didn’t make a three. Or during their one-point December 1st victory against the Sixers, when Tatum scored 26 points on 45 percent shooting but Brown finished 3 for 11 with a meager nine points. I want to see more games where they both play well. Maybe that means rearranging the supporting cast to get more shooting. Nonetheless, Tatum and Brown reaching 30 in the same game shouldn’t be a “once in a blue moon” occasion.
How can the Celtics alter their offense so the Jays each score 30 in more games? Maybe Tatum should be stationed on the block more often, where he could deploy his deadly turnaround jumper. Coach Udoka has increasingly used him as the screen setter in the pick-and-roll. He might be more comfortable in an off-ball role, rather than giving him the ball on the perimeter and asking him to create.
The Celtics must make it a point to get Jaylen driving downhill. During his first few years, he got to the free throw line at will with an unstoppable one dribble drive. As Brown’s isolation game has expanded, he’s less reliant on his explosive first step. His free throw rate is around 25 percent, on par with guys like Cole Anthony and Facundo Campazzo. That won’t do. Brown must be more decisive with his drives and make it a point to get more free throw opportunities.
ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski recently reported that the Celtics have no intentions of breaking up their dynamic duo. Brad Stevens and Wyc Grousbeck are convinced they have the building blocks to a competitive roster. The Celtics sit at .500 after winning three straight, and all has been quiet on the “break up the Jays” front. Let’s hope that it stays quiet, and the only way that happens is if Tatum and Brown continue to have high scoring outputs in the same game.