Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown make history with Celtics’ NBA Finals berth

Not many young duos have accomplished what they did with their win in Game 7.

Jayson Tatum embraced Jaylen Brown after they won the Eastern Conference finals. Matthew J Lee/Globe staff

It was only a few months ago that calls to break up Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown were at their loudest as the Celtics were hovering around .500.

Now, the Celtics’ young star duo has accomplished something very few have ever done. Tatum and Brown became the fourth duo of players 25-and-under who led their team in scoring to reach the NBA Finals in the last 40 years, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Tatum led the team in scoring during the regular season (26.9 points per game) and so far in the playoffs (27 points per game), helping him win the first-ever Larry Bird MVP award for his performance in the Eastern Conference finals. Brown scored 23.6 points per game in the regular season and 22.9 per game so far in the playoffs.

The Celtics’ young duo rose to the occasion on Sunday. Tatum scored a team-high 26 points on 9-of-21 shooting with 10 rebounds and six assists. He made a pair of clutch buckets late in the shot clock in the fourth quarter, too, which ended up being a pivotal five points as the Heat got within two points with less than 30 seconds left. Brown scored 24 points on 8-of-15 shooting with six rebounds and six assists.


As the two stepped up to bring the Celtics back to their first NBA Finals in 12 years, Tatum turned to Brown in the mids of the celebration to say “They said we couldn’t play together!”

While Tatum and Brown reveled in proving their doubters wrong on Sunday, Tatum admitted there were moments of doubt when the team was at its lowest point in January.

“It was tough. Like truly,” Tatum told reporters after Game 7. “There were definitely some tough moments throughout the season where — not doubt yourself but maybe question, right, question, can we do it? You start to realize how hard it is to win. You start to question yourself; are you good enough to be that guy?

“But I think you just trust in yourself, trust in the work that you put in to get to this point and continue to work, and it can’t rain forever. Good days were coming.

“I felt that we were — whatever it was, one step away from clicking throughout the season, and obviously once we did, we haven’t looked back.”

Of course, the Celtics turned things around in order for Tatum to reach the Eastern Conference finals for the third time in his career and the fourth time in Brown’s career. Prior to Sunday though, neither had broken through in the conference finals. Tatum said that he and Brown grew from those previous losses and other playoff shortcomings.


“In the moment when you lose those series, obviously it hurts and it’s tough. But you never forget it,” Tatum said. “I think that’s what we all have in common, that we’ve all been through those tough times and we remember how that felt.

“We didn’t want to have that feeling again leaving here tonight. We left it all out on the floor. Obviously, we got it done.”

The Celtics’ homegrown trio of Tatum, Brown, and Smart made history in Game 7 as well. With Smart scoring 24 points, grabbing nine rebounds, and dishing out five assists, they became the second trio to each have at least 20 points, five rebounds, and five assists in a Game 7 in NBA history.

Smart’s also been the center of criticism in recent years as he transitioned into the team’s starting point guard. Now in his eighth season in Boston, he’s happy that he was finally able to break through to reach the Finals.

“It’s huge for us. Like you said, we’ve been through a lot. Literally blood, sweat, and tears,” Smart said. “Every year we’ve been in this situation, like I said, and we had to sit there and look ourselves in the mirror, and it had to hurt, and it did.


“For us, it was just we wanted to come out here and make sure that that didn’t happen again, and we did it, like I said. All the years we’ve been through early on in the season, all the things we went through early on, the adversity, really allowed us to come here in Game 7 and do what we do. I think our road record is better than our home record, and that just shows the resilience that we have. That we can come into somebody’s building and tear it up. That’s what it’s all about, man. This core group of guys, the guys that’s on the bench, this coaching staff, this whole organization, they trusted us, and they allowed us to fix it and work it out, and we’ve grown from it, and it’s definitely helped us in the long run.”

Looking ahead to the NBA Finals matchup against the Warriors, the previous history of 25-and-under duos leading their respective squads to the championship stage doesn’t bode well for the Celtics. All three have lost. Hakeem Olajuwon and Ralph Sampson’s Rockets squad lost to the Celtics in six in the 1986 Finals. Shaquille O’Neal and Penny Hardaway saw their Magic squad get swept by the Magic in the 1995 NBA Finals. In 2012, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook weren’t able to lead the Thunder to the promised land, losing to the Heat in five.


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