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Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown’s formidable defense saves the C’s against Pelicans

The Jays combined for 50 points, but it was their defense that closed out a come from behind victory over New Orleans.

New Orleans Pelicans v Boston Celtics Photo by Brian Fluharty/Getty Images

In a league that’s so offensively dominant, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are sure making headlines on the defensive front.

Known for their prolific scoring, their ability to impact the game on both sides of the ball often gets overlooked. In Monday’s exhilarating come from behind victory over the Pelicans, the Jays persistence on defense was a main contributing factor in the win.

For coach Joe Mazzulla, he embraces hard work and effort on both ends of the court. He’s mentioned on several occasions having a defensive identity is key to the team's success and building culture.

“People need to recognize their well-rounded approach,” said Mazzulla on the Jays. “Jaylen taking on different matchups every game. Both of those guys made a significant difference defending tonight. That’s part of the reason why we are who we are. Those guys buy into defense and aren’t defined just by offense.”

The Pelicans outscored the Celtics 36-25 in the first quarter, shooting 55.6 percent from deep. From there, a shift occurred, this time with the Jays stepping up defensively. Tatum alone had three steals, one block, and ten defensive rebounds. For Brown, he finished with one block, and 11 boards. Together, they combined for a total of 50 points and 21 rebounds.

Defensively, Brown led the Cs with a 115.4 defensive rating, and Tatum second with a rating of 108.6. Together they combined for 58.3 percent of the team’s 62.5 defensive rebounding percentage.

In the second quarter, Boston held the Pelicans to just 24 points, on 2-9 (22.2 percent) from three, and 9-21 (42.9 percent) field goal shooting. The second half was a defensive masterpiece, clamping the Pelicans to just 3-17 three-point shooting (17.6 percent). At the end of the game, New Orleans shot just 1-4 (25 percent) from downtown against Brown.

“I thought the momentum changed for us in the second quarter,” said Mazzulla. “When we finally started to defend, gave up a 24-point quarter. Loved the process of the shots that we got in the second quarter. We can’t be defined by a result. So, if we’re going to only play, only feel good about ourselves when the ball’s going in, then that’s a recipe for short-term success.”

It all started with Tatum’s block on C.J. McCollum’s driving floater. The Celtics star was remarkable aggressively defending the perimeter while crashing the defensive boards. He finished the night with 5 deflections alone.

For Tatum, the final five minutes of defensive brilliance was a game changer for Boston. Able to close out the game, he earned some Tommy Points for his hustle against Brandon Ingram, which ultimately led to the dunk in transition over Dyson Daniels.

The next play up 101-98, Tatum was able to execute the close out defensively on Ingram. From there, JB grabbed the one-handed defensive rebound, and sent the outlet pass to Tatum on the other side of the court.

Between the two Jays, they had a combined five loose balls recoveries, including three defensively. We can talk about how the offensive saved the game, but in reality, it was the small defensive efforts that turned into offensive opportunities.

As for Brown, there’s a standard of excellence he and the organization hold every night, despite the mental and physical fatigue players often face around this time of the year.

“It’s all strength of mind,” Brown said. “It’s coming out and trying to be the best version of yourself. Regardless of how you personally feel, there’s certain things that we can’t give up: effort, defensive intensity, and playing the right way.”

With nine total defensive rebounds, the wingman displayed incredible versatility defending the perimeter and dropping back to crash the boards. Down 87-81, he grabbed a crucial rebound off Zion Williamson’s missed three-pointer that turned into a Derrick White bank shot on the other end.

With no margin for error, the C’s clawed their way back from a 17-point deficit. Tatum, who was all over the court, played the passing lanes beautifully. Boston ended up with 15 fast break points, and 11 points off turnovers. Here is another example of Tatum turning defensive into offensive opportunities in transition:

“We had to make a series of plays. We had to play tougher, play with more pace and things like that,” said Tatum post-game.

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