Earlier in the season, when the Bostons Celtics were floundering, many were calling for the team to trade either Jayson Tatum or Jaylen Brown.
After a loss to the Bulls in November, Marcus Smart called out Tatum and Brown and said the following:
“Every team is programmed and studied to stop Jayson and Jaylen,” Smart said. “I think everybody’s scouting report is to make those guys pass the ball. They don’t want to pass the ball.”
On Wednesday, Celtics head coach Ime Udoka discussed that moment during NBA Finals media availability.
“The thing about the Chicago game was that nothing said publicly had not been said privately,” Udoka said. “Although it may rub people wrong because it was said publicly, that was something we were working on behind the scenes every day, film session, one-on-one sessions. We all understood the areas we need to improve. That was what it was, and we moved past that pretty quickly.”
That moment changed things for the Celtics.
As the season progressed, Tatum and Brown figured it out, and after falling to 18-21 in January, Boston went 33-10 over the final 43 games.
Brown became a first-time All-Star, and Tatum was first-team All-NBA for the first time in his career.
The duo had big moments together in the regular and the playoffs. In April, Tatum had 31 points and six assists, while Brown added 32 points and seven assists in the 128-123 victory over the Pacers. According to ESPN Stats & Info, it was the first time since Game 2 of the 1987 Eastern Conference Semifinals that two Celtics had recorded 30 points and five assists in the same game.
Tatum and Brown are averaging at least 20 points per game during the 2022 playoffs. According to StatMuse, they are the third pair of teammates aged 25 or younger to reach the NBA Finals, with each player averaging 20 or more points per game.
Both Tatum and Brown discussed the struggles.
“Were there like moments that were tough? It was just like, you know, it was very frustrating,” Tatum said. “You know, head-scratching and all those type of things. It was more so, how can we figure it out? It wasn’t, like man, we can’t do this. It was; we got to figure something else out. It was tough. There were definitely some tough moments…
“Beginning of this year, every game was like, I don’t know if we’re going to win. It was a lot tougher than it should be, and that’s something I wasn’t used to.”
Brown added: “Last year, obviously things didn’t work out, etc., for other reasons, but this year, I didn’t feel like it was because of the way we played basketball. I just think they didn’t come together at the right time. Early on in the season, I was injured. I missed about 15 games. You know, the narrative isn’t going to say that. They are just going to say that you guys lost. Doesn’t matter what the excuse is. We’ve got a first-year head coach. We were trying to figure it out. We play in a city that it has no patience for any excuses, so we didn’t make any. But as things started to come together, we got healthier. We made a couple moves in the front office that were vital for us, and things started to fall in line.”
If the Smart moment doesn’t happen, who knows if Boston would be in the Finals at this point? But one thing is for sure, the Celtics have figured it out and are four wins away from winning an NBA title.
This is a tough series to call. Both teams are defending at a high level, and both teams are getting production from multiple players. The Warriors have the experience as this is the sixth time they have been to the Finals in the last eight years, while no one on the Celtics has been on this stage before.
However, it might come down to who has the best player, and you can argue that Tatum has been one of the best players in these playoffs, and Brown has not been too far behind. In addition, Boston has been battled-tested in these playoffs as they won two Game 7s. One on the road and one at home.
The Warriors do have something to prove as they want to show that the duo of Curry, Thompson, and Green can another title without Kevin Durant.
Here’s a shot in the dark: Warriors in 7, but Boston in 7 would not be surprising.