Celtics

Celtics season is bringing the best out of Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum

Celtics season is bringing the best out of Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum

BOSTON — While TD Garden lost its collective mind as his 3-pointer splashed through the twine, Jayson Tatum stared deep into a courtside TV camera and confidently skipped his way back towards midcourt. 

Jaylen Brown, who had lit the crowd’s fuse a possession earlier with a rim-rocking dunk, rushed over for an emphatic back bump to celebrate his team’s lopsided lead over the visiting Denver Nuggets.

In a way, it felt like the 2018 playoffs again. Tatum and Brown spearheading the Boston Celtics' offensive attack. The Jays. Ying and yang. Fire and ice. Peaches and Herb (you know, because they’re reunited and it feels so good).

OK, so Tatum and Brown were never really separated. But the construction of last year’s team didn’t quite allow their talents to ever be on full display. And neither player really put his best foot forward, either, given the conditions.

But Boston’s offseason roster overhaul, and the lessons learned last season, have provided Tatum and Brown a new opportunity to showcase their talents. They’ve both responded by playing at an All-Star-caliber level while stating a strong case as the best young duo in the NBA.

Tatum and Brown partnered up for 47 points on Friday night, helping Boston to a  108-95 triumph over a Nuggets team that has lingered near the top of the west for much of the first quarter of the season. Tatum and Brown combined for seven 3-pointers against the NBA’s top-ranked defense — two more than the Nuggets made as a team — and helped Boston really tear the game open in the second half.

This is what Celtics brass hoped was possible entering the season. In the aftermath of signing Kemba Walker this summer, it was fair to wonder if the team might be overstocked with perimeter players and, at that point, Brown’s future was a bit uncertain (before the extension he would eventually ink). The possibility of moving a wing player didn’t seem farfetched.

But the message from those inside Boston’s front office was consistent. The team wanted to see how Tatum and Brown performed together, especially outside the calamity of last season. The Celtics had hoped that the new roster makeup would open avenues for Tatum and Brown to thrive in ways that better resembled the 2018 playoffs than the 2018-19 regular season.

At the quarter pole of the new season, things couldn’t be going much better for the tandem. Tatum is averaging 21.2 points, 7 rebounds, 2.9 assists, and 1.4 steals over 34.3 minutes per game, all while putting up the best on/off splits on the team. Brown is up to 20 points, 6.9 rebounds, 1.9 assists, and 1.2 steals over 33.4 minutes per game.

Both players are right on the heels of Walker for the team lead in scoring. Only Gordon Hayward, sidelined for the past 13 games, has grabbed more rebounds than the duo this season. And there’s still the possibility that this tandem has just scratched the surface of their overall potential.

Regardless of how the cast around them looks, it’s becoming clear that the cornerstones of the Celtics team deep into the future centers on Tatum and Brown. And the players seem acutely aware of that fact.

"I think, definitely, the responsibility — a lot of it is on us, so we have to handle that kind of accordingly,” said Brown. "Just each and every night, I don’t think there’s no extra pressure that needs to be added to it. Just come out and play basketball, do what we’ve been doing. And I think everything will take care of itself.”

Brown knows his game complements Tatum’s well.

"I guess I’m more aggressive. JT’s kind of more laid-back,” said Brown. "I like to get to the basket and JT likes to step back and shoot jumpers. So a lot of times, we both mix it up a lot, sometimes I shoot 3s and sometimes he gets to the basket like today. But for the most part it’s kind of like polar opposites.”

However you want to compare and contrast, it’s working. And that’s what matters to Tatum.

"It's a lot of fun. When we're playing hard, playing together, making the right plays and he' doing things like that, it's hard not to get excited,” said Tatum. Later, he was asked about their friendship.

"It's grown a lot. I mean, we spend so much time together, obviously, over the course of 2 ½ seasons. We’ve been in some tough battles and we trust each other. I know what he's capable of and you know what he's going to bring to the table. You know what I'm going to bring to the table, especially in the toughest times. I’d go to war with him any day.”

It helps both of the Jays to have a veteran anchor like Walker alongside and empowering them to take the scoring baton when they have it going. Marcus Smart, who has seen the Jays progress, beams with pride discussing their developments.

"I think everybody sees the steps that they’ve taken towards becoming better basketball players, and it shows,” said Smart. 

Celtics coach Brad Stevens is quick to note that there’s still plenty of room for growth for both 23-year-old Brown and 21-year-old Tatum. "That story will be told down the road, right?” said Stevens. "Those guys are still getting better."

But the coach knows everybody in the organization is rooting for them to stay on this path towards tandem stardom. 

"Everybody wants them to do really well,” said Stevens. "I think 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. It’s on us to all bring out the best in them and help them continue to grow through tough times or success, and they’re having a lot of success right now. 

“With that comes the different challenges of new defenses and more attention and how do you handle that, and those guys have shown themselves well thus far.”

Yup, Tatum just keeps skipping (“That's like my thing. I try not to get too excited, but that's my thing,” said Tatum) and Brown will happily exult after a loud slam, or simply blow kisses after a big 3.

"I guess we feed off each other,” said Brown. "Kind of different games, kind of opposite, but it makes sense. Like fire and ice.”

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Cavaliers, which tips off Monday at 7 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Tommy & Mike have the call at 7:30 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.

Struggles today setting stage for success later? Former Celtic Aron Baynes thinks so

Struggles today setting stage for success later? Former Celtic Aron Baynes thinks so

BOSTON — There’s no getting around the fact that the Boston Celtics (27-14) have come upon hard times, a team searching for solutions after dropping a 123-119 loss to Phoenix on Saturday, their sixth loss in the last eight games. 

Suns center Aron Baynes, who spent the previous two seasons playing for Boston, remembered stretches of bad play similar to this. They found themselves fighting off the urge to throw a pity party which is something that ails many teams in similar predicaments. 

LIVE stream the Celtics all season and get the latest news and analysis on all of your teams from NBC Sports Boston by downloading the My Teams App.

Last season, Boston lost seven of 10 in November only to bounce back and win nine of their next 10. They had another stretch later in the season in which they lost five of eight games and came back to win four in a row. 

Then in March, they lost four straight, only to close out the regular season winning six of their last eight. That set the tone for their first-round series sweep of the Indiana Pacers. 

Those tough times, Baynes recalls, became a necessary catalyst for future success. He predicts that will once again come to fruition for the Celtics, with head coach Brad Stevens playing a prominent role in that turn-around. 

“The best thing about it was, Brad really used it to get the team focused, get going, good runs after that,” Baynes said. “That was kind of, a number of those lulls turned into good stretches to finish out before the All-Star break and going into the playoffs.”

There was no mistaking Stevens' disappointment after Saturday's loss. His team once again came out slow and waited for the game to be too far out of hand before they began to play Celtics-like basketball.

The way Stevens sees it, the struggles of the moment are setting the table for success in the (near) future. 

“This will be a good stretch when we look back on it, because it’ll force improvement,” Stevens said. “It’ll force urgency on every detail. It’ll force the ‘do your job; for 48 minutes. And so that’s … these are never fun to go through. You know, it sucks, but these are usually what you look back on and say was a springboard for you.”

Baynes echoed similar sentiments.

“We had a couple of these things kind of spring-boarded us into good runs,” Baynes said. “I know they are going to do the same thing. They’ve shown over the course of the year. They’ll be able to get it going for sure.”

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Lakers, which begins Monday at 6 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live. You can also stream on the MyTeams App.

Celtics-Suns Takeaways: Smart was great. Rest of the Celtics? Not so much

Celtics-Suns Takeaways: Smart was great. Rest of the Celtics? Not so much

BOSTON -- Trailing 98-88 in the fourth quarter, Boston’s Jayson Tatum had the ball in hand, with a potential 1-on-1 opportunity to score at the rim. 

Before he got there, he had one last inside-out, dribble-drive move to make. He made it, but the ball took an unexpected hop, hit his shin and rolled out of bounds. 

It was that kind of night for the Boston Celtics whose struggles continue with Saturday’s 123-119 loss, their sixth in the last nine games. 

LIVE stream the Celtics all season and get the latest news and analysis on all of your teams from NBC Sports Boston by downloading the My Teams App.

There are many avenues to take that’ll lead you to why the Celtics (27-14) lost this one, for sure. But this loss, like most of the others, comes down to defense; specifically, the Celtics not playing very well at that end of the floor. 

And it isn’t just the perimeter players or the team’s bigs. It’s the entire squad, delivering about as much force as a feather all the while getting picked apart from the opening tip to the final horn. 

As we’ve seen so many times with the Celtics, they made a frantic rally in the closing minutes as Phoenix’s comfortable double-digit lead was down to just seven points (114-107) with 1:16 to play.

A pair of free throws and a dunk by Daniel Theis brought Boston within 114-111, only for a short fadeaway jumper in the lane from Mikal Bridges hung on the lip of the rim before falling. That increased the Suns' lead to 116-111 with 36.9 seconds to play. 

Coming out of a Celtics timeout, they called a lob pass to Gordon Hayward, who caught it cleanly and took an uncontested lay-up that rimmed out. A chorus of boos rang out immediately. 

It was a fitting last-second play for the Celtics. Once again, they did a lot of things that looked good and should have worked. But ultimately, they came up short yet again. 

‘D’ IN DEVIN BOOKER STANDS FOR DOMINATE

Booker puts up a ton of points, but the Celtics continue to be the one team he loves to torch more than others. And what we saw for most of Saturday night was consistent with what we usually see from Booker when he’s playing against Boston. 

Saturday was another big night for Booker in Boston. He led the Suns with a near triple-double of 39 points,10 rebounds and nine assists. 

Boston used a slew of different defenders at him but it didn’t matter. Booker is that good and the Celtics defense lately … isn’t. 

WALKER’S ABSENCE PAINFULLY OBVIOUS

Marcus Smart did his best Kemba Walker impression, making a slew of 3’s — and mostly doing so in a very efficient manner 

But in the end, as the Celtics failed to make the necessary plays at either end of the floor, Walker’s absence was painfully obvious.

As impressive as Boston’s knack for players stepping up to fill the void might be when missing one of their stars, there's a cumulative effect that, over time, will make going that route a losing proposition. 

The Celtics need their core guys healthy, ready to go. And when you look at their schedule, a taxing January schedule, and the fact that they have been able to survive way more than they should with this “next man up” brand of basketball, it shouldn’t come as too big a shock that they are coming up short when one of their best players (like Walker) isn’t available. 

MARCUS SMART DOING SMART-LIKE THINGS ALL GAME

It was very much a bittersweet time for Marcus Smart. He was giving the Celtics what the franchise and the fans have been clamoring for — a consistent 3-point shot. 

Smart was having the best game of his life shooting the ball against the Suns. He finished with a career-high 37 points scored, including a career-high 11 made 3’s. He also had eight assists and five rebounds. 

There are going to be very few nights when Smart plays this well, this locked in offensively. 

Even after many fans had headed to the exit, there was Smart, engaged, encouraging as ever, trying to will this team to a victory that they had no business getting.  It was the kind of leadership and big-game play that we’ve come to expect from him. 

And as impressive as it was, the end result was a Celtics loss. This one can be blamed on many factors and many players … but Smart ain’t one of them. 

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Lakers, which begins Monday at 6 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live. You can also stream on the MyTeams App.