It wasn’t too long after the Boston Celtics drafted Jayson Tatum, that we started seeing him hanging out quite a bit with his new teammate, Jaylen Brown.
That led to a flurry of wannabe nicknames for the duo like 7-11 (Brown’s jersey number 7 and Tatum’s could-have-been jersey number 11); Jay Team; and Trouble 07 (Tatum’s jersey number ‘0’ and Brown’s jersey number 7) to name a few.
But that whole nicknaming process was the opening salvo if you will, to how intertwined these two would be when it comes to their success and that of the Celtics in achieving the ultimate goal for them, which is winning an NBA title.
That goal is very much within their reach now as they attempt to close out their second round series tonight in a Game 6 matchup against the defending NBA champion Toronto Raptors.
Boston leads the best-of-seven series 3-2 after an impressive 111-89 Game 5 win in which Brown led the way with 27 points while Tatum chipped in with a second straight double-double of 18 points and 10 rebounds.
There is no question that Tatum and Brown have grown considerably in skills, talent and ability to impact games at the highest of levels. But what’s often overlooked in their ascension to be where they are today, are the setbacks and struggles along the journey.
There was a clear hangover effect from Game 3 to Game 4 for Brown, only for him to shake it off and bounce back with a strong, dominant performance in Boston’s Game 5 win.
Tatum had a bad Game 3 as well (15 points, 5-for-18 shooting) but has since bounced back to average 21 points in the last two games while shooting 45.4 percent from the field.
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What they have shown of late are the gains that come about after some growing pains.
For most of the Boston Celtics’ postseason journey, the growth of Brown and Tatum has been a topic of discussion.
Tatum was named to his first All-Star team in February and has been among the best players in the postseason. When Brown’s at the top of his game making an impact at both ends of the floor, the Celtics are damn near unbeatable.
But for all the talk about their growth and improvement, the true litmus test of all that comes tonight.
For Boston’s dynamic duo who are just 23 (Brown) and 22 (Tatum) years young, respectively, tonight’s close-out game against the Raptors affords them an opportunity to show that the steady improvement in their individual games can bring Boston one stop closer to the collective goal of the franchise: bringing home Banner 18.
“Kemba has been great for them, but this is Jayson and Jaylen’s team,” an Eastern Conference executive texted NBC Sports Boston. “If they close out the series in Game 6, beat Miami and get to the NBA Finals … both of those guys have to be huge for them.”
Boston winning an NBA title this year may have seemed a bit of a reach at the start of the season — and maybe to a lesser extent, when the season restart began, too.
But seeing how they just ran over the Philadelphia 76ers and came within a half-second of putting the Raptors in a 3-0 series hole, there’s no denying that this team is for real and has every reason to believe they will be headed to the Eastern Conference Finals to face the Miami Heat after Miami put away the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks in just five games.
The goal for Tatum and Brown is to be champions. Part of being a champion is recognizing golden opportunities and capitalizing on them.
The OG Anunoby game-winner at the buzzer in Game 3 was an amazing shot that’ll go down as one of the most improbable finishes ever in a playoff game.
But the way Boston came out for Game 4 raised a lot more questions about whether this team has truly matured to where they can not only get past this series but get to the NBA Finals as well.
In Game 4, Brown had arguably his worst playoff game as he bricked one open shot after another. Tatum’s stat line — 24 points on 10-for-18 shooting — was strong, but they needed him to take over in the fourth quarter and he didn’t do that.
Just when they had given folks ample reason to question their growth when it comes to winning big games, the Celtics’ 1-2 punch of Tatum and Brown answered with strong performances that helped pave the way to victory.
And so here they are, on the cusp of getting back to the Eastern Conference Finals for the second time in three seasons together.
But getting back to the conference finals can’t be enough; not with this team and certainly not with the roles they are called upon to play with this group.
The Celtics are thinking NBA Finals, an achievable goal for them that’ll require many to help chip in, a group that includes their dynamic, nickname-less duo of Tatum and Brown.