Celtics

Young Celtics duo continues to shine as they embrace 'great opportunity'

Young Celtics duo continues to shine as they embrace 'great opportunity'

BOSTON – There is no confusion as to the pecking order within the Boston Celtics hierarchy on the floor. 

Kyrie Irving and Al Horford are at the front of the line.

The Celtics know this, as do every team they face.

But for Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, that knowledge has been invaluable to their play which has been far greater and more consistent than anyone anticipated.

And that play was one of the main reasons why the Celtics had no problem in defeating the New York Knicks, 110-89, on Tuesday night.

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Brown, who celebrated his 21st birthday with a Celtics victory on Tuesday, led all scorers with 23 points. And Tatum, whose play is nothing like what you would expect from a 19-year-old, was right behind Brown with 22 points.

They became the first Celtics tandem ever to each score at least 20 points in the same game, and be 21 years old or younger at that time.

“We’re going to keep getting better and comfortable with each other as time goes on,” Tatum said.

Brown said his strong game against the Knicks was fueled in large part by the attention Horford and Irving were drawing.

“I’ve got to make plays when they’re taking up a lot of that attention,” Brown said. “So just come out, be aggressive.”

And he was quick to add that Tatum’s on board with that approach as well.

“Me and Jayson … got to make teams guard us,” Brown said. “Make it easier for Al and Kyrie.”

While that may be the intent, what’s starting to happen is Brown and Tatum are actually making things easier for Horford and Irving.

“They’re taking big strides every single day in practice,” Irving said of Brown and Tatum. “It’s still early but I give them credit. They’re coming out ready to play. They’re demanding a lot out of themselves which I appreciate. It makes my job easier to go out there and do what I do.”

And while a lot of attention has been paid to their play from the prism of them being young players, Celtics head coach Brad Stevens doesn’t look at them that way.

“I’m sure I’ll say it down the road or whenever I’m asked,” Stevens said, “but they are young guys. But to us, with the situation we’re in, they’re guys. Like, we need them to be guys. We’re in a situation right now where we’re going to expect a lot out of those guys and we need them to be great, we need them to be able to respond to adversity, and we need to be able to respond to pats on the back just the same. We have high expectations for them; they should have high expectations for themselves, and they’re getting a great opportunity. So, we need them to continue to be good, and there’s a lot of fun in that, I think.”

Both Brown and Tatum have not shied away from embracing the thought of being an elite player despite being among the youngest players on the roster.

This isn’t about youth being served but rather, youth in the form of Brown and Tatum serving anyone not donning the Green and White.

And while this has been embraced by all the Celtics, Irving has taken particular joy in seeing how quickly the youthful duo has been able to make a major impact on the team.

“On an individual level, they are ahead of the game in terms of the guys at their position, first-year, second-year players,” Irving said. “They’re relishing it and I’m really proud of them. The difference between good and great is how consistent you are in this league. So, that’s just the thing that I’m going to continue to echo with guys. Be themselves and continue to get better."

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Celtics thought it would be good . . . but this good?

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Celtics thought it would be good . . . but this good?

After arriving in Boston and spending some time with his new teammates, Kyrie Irving felt good about this group doing big things this season. 

But when asked about the experience thus far being what he thought it would be, Irving responded, “It’s probably exceeded that.”

He’s not alone. 

Few would have envisioned the Celtics (15-2) would have the best record in the NBA at this point, let alone be riding a 15-game winning streak which ranks as the fifth-best winning streak in franchise history. 

Irving and his Celtics teammates will try and keep it going tonight when they take on the Dallas Mavericks.

Irving’s ability to mesh with his teammates and still find success was among the many questions out there when the Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers pulled off the blockbuster trade this offseason. 

Blending in has not been an issue for Irving, bolstered by the reality that his game stands out. 

We saw that in Boston’s 110-99 win over the Atlanta Hawks, which was a game in which Irving had 30 points on an insanely efficient 10-for-12 shooting night. 

There were many factors that went into Irving’s strong night against the Hawks, but he said it really came down to one thing above all else.

“I just made some damn shots for once,” Irving quipped. “That right there kind of made it seem better than I actually been shooting over the start of the season.  It would also contribute to being able to be in the right spots and guys being selfless in their approach driving to the basket or getting into the paint. It’s tell-tale sign of all of us getting more comfortable.”

Here are five below-the-radar story lines to keep an eye on as the Boston Celtics face the Dallas Mavericks, with Boston gunning for its 16th straight win. 

BROWN’S POSITIVE PLAY

Jaylen Brown has been on a bit of an offensive tear of late, the last being a career-high 27-point performance in Boston’s win over Atlanta. But even more telling is how well things seem to flow with him on the floor. Brown’s plus/minus this season is +146 which is tops among all players in the Eastern Conference. His closest competition in the East? That would teammate Al Horford whose plus/minus this season is +143. In addition, Horford has had a positive plus/minus in every game this season. 

YOGI FERRELL

You can count Yogi Ferrell among the ones that got away from Brad Stevens when he was coaching at Butler. Ferrell, who played at Indiana, was a player on Stevens’ radar when he was coaching at Butler. “I recruited Yogi, unsuccessfully,” Stevens told reporters in Dallas. While Ferrell came on strong as an undrafted free agent with the Mavericks last season, Stevens said there’s nothing about Ferrell’s game now that he didn’t see when he tried to woo him to Butler. “He would have been awfully good at Butler,” Stevens said.

HOMECOMING

While Marcus Smart grew up in Flower Mound, Texas (less than an hour from Dallas), tonight’s game is a homecoming of sorts for another Celtics player – Semi Ojeleye. The 6-foot-7 forward played at SMU which is located in Dallas. A second-round pick by Boston in last June’s NBA draft, Ojeleye has been among the many surprise performers for the Celtics this season. “We knew he could be a versatile defender,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “Probably has exceeded our expectations in that regard with his ability to guard one (point guard) through five (center) at certain times. And he’s been pretty consistent shooting the ball. Right now, embracing that kind of 3-and-D role is what he has to do and he’s done it well.”

DEEP DRAFT CLASS

The Boston Celtics struck gold by drafting Jayson Tatum with the third overall pick. But as you look at the teams that had lottery picks in last June’s NBA draft, few come away feeling disappointed or discouraged by the player selected. The Dallas Mavericks are among the teams pleased with their first-round pick, Dennis Smith Jr. who was selected with the ninth overall pick. He has emerged as one of the top rookies this year, averaging 14.5 points, 4.5 assists and 4.2 rebounds per game. And yes, he was a player that was on the Celtics’ radar leading up to last June’s draft. “We had Dennis in and he was really impressive,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “He’s a guy that’s going to have a great career and he’s got good veteran players around him to help kick it off.”

DIRK NOWITZKI

The numbers aren’t anywhere close to what we’ve seen for the bulk of Dirk Nowitzki’s illustrious career that’s now in Year 20. But there is a demeanor about him that seems to be at peace with where he’s at basketball-wise, even if the wins aren’t nearly as plentiful as he’s accustomed to. “I appreciate his game a ton,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “Just watching him talk on the court, cheer on the bench, sit at the scorer’s table with a smile on his face. You can’t play this long and be this good this long if you don’t’ love it. Everybody says they love it, but he’s got a different level of passion. You can feel it, you can see it. You root for guys like him to have success.”

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WATCH: Celtics vs. Mavericks

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WATCH: Celtics vs. Mavericks

Tune into NBC Sports Boston to watch the Celtics play the Mavericks in Dallas. You can also click here to watch the Celtics livestream presented by Nissan on the NBC Sports App. Coverage begins at 7:30 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live Presented by ACE Ticket.

- Game preview: C's need to play Smart in Dallas

- Channel Finder: Make sure you know where to watch

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