As the years pass and their responsibility increases, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown each understand the importance of their relationship and symmetry.
The Celtics have essentially placed the fate of their organization in their 20-something-year-old hands and it’s up to the duo to not only improve individually but also to master playing together, aiming to eventually emerge as one of the league’s more dynamic duos.
The potential is there. Tatum is a polished scorer who has learned from his second-year mistakes to be more consistent, while Brown is a premium athlete who is learning all the idiosyncrasies of the game during his ascension.
On Friday at TD Garden, the two combined to dazzle a sellout crowd that included retired Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski and dominate the Denver Nuggets, as the Celtics scored a wire-to-wire 108-95 win.
Brown scored 21 points, including a thundering third-quarter dunk, and Tatum led Boston with 26, including a stepback 3-pointer to beat the shot clock that prompted him to stare at the crowd in delight.
It was the blueprint for how the Celtics want to win. They stifled the Nuggets and Tatum and Brown shared highlight moments, proving their relationship and on-court cohesion is soaring.
Following the offseason departure of Kyrie Irving, the biggest question for these refurbished Celtics was whether Tatum and Brown could take the next major step together. They each showed flashes in the past few years, but there were too many stretches of inconsistency.
Their responsibility has increased this season with Irving gone and Gordon Hayward out. The two have accepted the increased workload and flourished.
“I’ve always felt that way about those guys,” coach Brad Stevens said about Tatum and Brown wanting to play well together. “I think everybody wants them to do really well. The great part of the whole situation is all the players, all the coaches, all the front office, the whole city, we all want Jayson and Jaylen to do really well. And it’s on us to bring out the best in them and help them continue to grow through tough times and success.
“They’re having a lot of success right now, so with that comes the different challenges of new defenses and more attention and how you handle that. Those guys have shown themselves well thus far.”
The two said they fully realize how important each is and how important they are collectively to the organization. They are the present and they are the future.
Brown just signed a four-year, $115 million extension, while Tatum is expected to sign a maximum $170 million pact next summer. The Celtics will invest nearly $300 million in those two players, so they know playing well together, taking turns attacking defenses, and becoming friends is critical.
“It’s developed a lot,” Brown said of their relationship. “At first it was like we was cool but at the same time we was totally different. So we kind of just did our own thing. As we’ve gotten older, it’s kind of just made sense. That’s my guy. He’s a good dude, family oriented. He handled himself the same way every day, so you can’t be really too mad at anything like that.”
Both players have enjoyed great team success (the Eastern Conference finals run) and failure (the entire 2018-19 season). They are realizing that NBA success is not about scoring, dunks, and 3-pointers if victory isn’t the end result. So they realize they need each other for the Celtics to contend long term.
“I think definitely the responsibility, a lot of it is on us,” Brown said. “So we have to handle that kind of accordingly, each and every night. I don’t think there’s no extra pressure added to it. Just come out and play basketball, do what we’ve been doing and I think everything will take care of itself.”
The two are dramatically different people, but they’ve learned to appreciate their differences. They understand they don’t have to be alike and it’s inaccurate to assume because they’re 17 months apart in age they are similar. They’ve had to work on their friendship, respect each other for their games and goals, and understand that together, they can help catapult the Celtics back to greatness.
And Friday was an example how much they’ve developed over the past two-plus years.
“It’s a lot of fun. We’re playing hard, playing together, making the right plays,” Tatum said. “He’s doing things like [that dunk] it’s hard not to get excited.
“It’s grown a lot. We’ve spent so much time together over the course of 2½ seasons. We’ve been in some tough battles and we trust each other. I know what he’s capable of and what he’s going to bring to the table and he knows what I’m going to bring to the table, especially in the toughest times and I’d go to war with him any day.”