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Jayson Tatum wins MVP and battles Jaylen Brown one-on-one in All Star Game

Jayson Tatum set the All Star Game record with 55 points, but his one-on-one battle with Jaylen Brown could become the legacy of an otherwise sloppy showcase.

2023 NBA All Star Game Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

Anthony Edwards tossed the in-bounds to Jaylen Brown and the Celtics star crossed half-court and saw his Celtics teammate with his arms outstretched. Eight other all-stars scrambled to the left side of the court as Brown and Jayson Tatum drifted toward the right wing.

Brown, donning his new mask in his return from facial fracture, dribbled to the baseline, launched a leaning jump shot over Tatum’s head and buried it. He ran across half court in and flashed the too small sign, embracing his new super villain look. The exchange initiated the most memorable sequence of the night in an otherwise sloppy showcase.

Tatum claimed the MVP honor named for Kobe Bryant by scoring an All Star Game record 55 points, hitting 10-of-18 tries from deep, in a 184-175 Team Giannis win. Brown led Team LeBron with 35 points in 25 minutes, outplaying his teammate in isolation for a few moments late in the third quarter.

“That was like another day at the office for us, we’ve been on the same team for six years now,” Tatum said. “We’ve played countless number of one-on-one games, scrimmages against each other. We’ve always kind of brought the best out of each other. It was a normal day for us, just millions of people watching on one of the biggest stages, so we had a little fun with it.”

Giannis Antetokounmpo selected Tatum No. 2 overall among the starters in the first televised all-star draft after LeBron James took Joel Embiid. Giannis shocked James by not taking Jrue Holiday first in the reserve section of the draft, going with Damian Lillard instead. James passed on Holiday too, taking Edwards second, before Giannis finally grabbed Holiday. James chose Brown fourth. Jaren Jackson Jr. went last among the reserves, as Lauri Markkanen did in the starter draft, though Nikola Jokic began walking toward Team LeBron’s circle as if he did.

With Brown and Tatum on opposite sides, they set up to guard each other at one point as they did in the 2021 All Star Game. Brown fell short of making it to Cleveland last year, but entered this All Star Game in strong contention to start and finished as one of the top reserve candidates. They collided earlier this month in a win over Philadelphia, fracturing Brown’s face, though he avoided surgery and missed four games entering the break before getting fitted with a mask. He shot 16-for-27 in it, including 3-of-12 from three.

“I’m feeling good, I’m feeling a lot better,” Brown said of his ailment. “I think I should be fine, as long as I stay away from Jayson Tatum.”

Antetokounmpo, who injured his right wrist against the Bulls on Wednesday, started the game by dunking and exiting for the rest of the night after his cameo. The starters exchanged layups, dunks, turnovers and alley-oops. Donovan Mitchell tossed Tatum a bounce pass for an open slam, then caught a steal and fed Tatum to throw a self-pass to himself off the backboard for a two-handed slam. James matched his move the other way.

Tatum scored four more baskets in short order, running ahead of the Team LeBron defense to catch a long lob from Holiday. Brown entered and hit four shots in a row at the rim, a three and found Edwards on an alley-oop facing no defense before the halftime score hit 99-92 in favor of Tatum and Antetokounmpo.

They led by double digits in the third frame, with the teams accumulating money for charity with each quarter win before their totals went toward chasing a target score in the fourth. Brown dug into that deficit with his baseline score, then knocked the ball off Tatum on the other end in a rare stop. Tatum looked in both directions shocked before Brown met him on the other end, stepped back toward the logo and buried a three over him. Another too small celebration. Brown seemed to relish the chance to show he stacks up with his teammate.

“It takes sacrifice on my behalf, it’s definitely a lot of opportunities where you can be a guy, but the ultimate goal for me and Jayson has always been to win games,” Brown said on Saturday in Utah. “When you see team dynamics, there’s nothing wrong with doing your job on a team. Throughout my career, I’ve learned to play the role that’s been needed for me to play, and I think that’s a part of why our success has been able to happen. Being able to humble yourself, and be like, yeah, I know I can be something somewhere else, but there’s no problem being a great team guy and winning here in Boston.”

Tatum had to get him back, and did with a left wing three after shaking Brown with a crossover. Brown tried him with a shake-off dribble move from mid-range, but time ran out on their duel that drew rave reviews and their contemporaries seemed more than happy to let take over the game for a moment.

Brown hit four shots inside to pull Team LeBron back within single digits as Team Giannis approached the target score, but Tatum hit a free throw and one more layup to break Anthony Davis’ scoring record before his teammates started heaving half court shots to try to win the game. Markkanen missed one in the corner that bounced out to Lillard for the clinching three from the left wing.

Brown and Tatum’s battle raised the idea of an all-star one-on-one competition in the future, and while pride may get in the way, the draft that pitted them against each other on Sunday once seemed too embarrassing to go on television. It took an altered format, but it happened and inspiring an exclusive event they basically provided would solidify Brown and Tatum’s legacy from a game Team LeBron coach Michael Malone called the worst ever.

“(It’s) extremely special,” Tatum said next to his trophy. “Two of the four times I’ve been an all-star were with a teammate, two with J.B. and one with Kemba (Walker). Those are the best all-stars, to share it with somebody that you share every day of the week with essentially. I’m extremely happy for him, but we talked about it, now it’s go time. We’ve got to be on the same page, we’ve got one common goal and that’s to win a championship ... it’s time to get back to work.”

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