The Rise of Two Pillars: Recapping Brown, Tatum’s 2020-21 Season

Despite the ups and downs endured by the Boston Celtics this past season, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum continued to be on the up and up.

Boston’s two young stars had already taken a significant leap the previous season with Jayson Tatum receiving his first All-Star and All-NBA nods and Brown being on the cusp of an All-Star selection himself; yet, they managed to elevate their respective games to an even higher level in 2020-21, making several historic achievements along the way.

While C’s fans may want to forget the injury- and illness-plagued 2020-21 season ever happened, we don’t want you to forget the achievements and the progress that was made by what new head coach Ime Udoka refers to as the “foundational pillars” of the franchise. So, let’s take a look back at what made this season so promising and unique for these two 25-and-under superstars in the making.

It was evident right from Opening Night that both Brown and Tatum were about to take a giant leap forward together, as they became the first Celtics teammates to each score 30-plus points during a season-opener while hosting the Milwaukee Bucks. Twenty-four-year-old Brown dropped a team-high 33 points, while Tatum scored 30, including the game-winning step-back 3-pointer, making them just the second pair of sub-25-year-old teammates in NBA history to score at least 30 points apiece during a season opener, according to Elias Sports Bureau.

And that was just them getting warmed up.

Through the first 10 games of the season, Tatum accumulated 269 points, while Brown amassed 263. They joined Jim Jackson and Jamal Mashburn as the second pair of teammates in NBA history to log at least 250 points during the first 10 games of the season before turning 25. Over the previous 20 seasons, only two other sets of teammates had achieved such a feat, regardless of age: Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal, and Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant. That’s not bad company to be a part of.

Unfortunately, the magic of Brown and Tatum’s growing partnership was disrupted less than a month into the season after Tatum was diagnosed with COVID-19 in mid-January, which sidelined him for two weeks. That just meant that Brown would have to step up even more, which he did by providing 29.4 points, 5.0 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game during Tatum’s absence.

Tatum claimed that he never felt quite the same after returning from his illness, but he did quite well in masking his ailments on the court. He continued to grow as the season went on, and Brown kept rising as well.

The highlight achievement of their respective seasons came midway through when they were both selected to represent the Eastern Conference in the All-Star game, with Tatum earning his first start. The duo became the second pair of Celtics teammates to both receive All-Star honors before their 25th birthdays, joining Bob Cousy and Ed Macauley, who did so in 1953.

Not only would Brown and Tatum get to share the All-Star Game experience, but they also combined to represent one-third of the participants in the 3-point contest, as they competed in a pool of players that included Mike Conley, Stephen Curry, Zach LaVine, and Donovan Mitchell. Tatum made it to the final round of the contest, finishing in third place, while Brown was unable to make it out of the opening round. However, Brown saved plenty of 3-pointers for the All-Star Game itself, during which both he and Tatum emerged as two of the biggest stars of the weekend while competing against each other for the first time in their careers.

Getting the start for Team Durant, Tatum logged 21 points on 9-of-16 shooting from the field to go along with four rebounds, seven assists, and a game-high four steals. For Team LeBron, Brown logged 22 points on 8-of-12 shooting, including 5-of-7 from 3-point range, along with five rebounds, one assist and two steals. The pair even got to go toe-to-toe in a few one-on-one situations, though it was Brown and Team LeBron who ultimately came out on top with a 170-150 win.

It wasn’t until April that the Celtics started to get into a consistent rhythm, as they started off the month winning eight-of-nine games. They finished April with an 11-4 record and seemed to be heading toward the postseason with momentum. That was until they sustained another significant blow at the beginning of May, as Brown suffered a season-ending wrist injury.

That meant that it was Tatum’s turn to help fill the void, and he did so by providing 29.7 points, 6.8 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game during Boston’s final 12 regular season and postseason games without Brown. He also scored 50-plus points during four of his last 24 games, including a franchise-tying 60-point effort against the San Antonio Spurs on April 30.

Brown finished the regular season with averages of 24.7 PPG, 6.0 RPG and 3.4 APG, while shooting 48.4 percent from the field, including 39.7 percent from 3-point range. Tatum, meanwhile, finished with marks of 26.4 PPG, 7.4 RPG, and 4.3 APG, while shooting 45.9 percent from the field, including 38.6 percent from long range. Together, they joined Larry Bird, John Havlicek and Paul Pierce as the only players in franchise history to log at least 24.0 PPG, 6.0 RPG and 3.0 APG in a season.

As we know, the Celtics bowed out of the playoffs after a five-game, first-round series with the Brooklyn Nets, which left many wondering what could have been if Brown and Tatum were both healthy for the postseason run.

There’s no sense in wondering about the past, however, as the future with these two superstars is as bright as could be. Celtics president of basketball operations Brad Stevens has emphasized multiple times this offseason about the intention to build around Brown and Tatum for the foreseeable future by placing the right pieces around them in order to help maximize their potential.

Having two stars at the most coveted position in the NBA should be a luring factor in bringing in such pieces, and such was the case in helping to attract Udoka to the team.

“You have two foundational young pillars like those two, it’s exciting to build around them, continue to help them grow, and reach their potential,” Udoka said Monday morning. “The sky is the limit with those two. We’re excited to work with them and continue to see them grow throughout their career.”

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