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BOSTON – It became clear during Summer League that Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum could very well hold the keys to the future of the Boston Celtics franchise.
Little did we know how quickly that future would turn into the present.
Through the first eight days of the regular season, 21-year-old Brown and 19-year-old Tatum have already established themselves as two of the top scorers and most reliable defenders on Boston’s roster. On top of that, they’ve etched their names alongside each other in the Celtics’ record books.
Tuesday night they became the first Celtics teammates under the age of 22 to score 20-plus points in the same game. With birthday boy Brown scoring a game-high 23 points, and Tatum right behind him with a career-high 22 points, the Celtics were able to down the New York Knicks with ease, 110-89.
If you think Tuesday’s tandem performance was a fluke, think again. The two starting wings have been consistently effective throughout the first four games of the season, starting with opening night in Cleveland, where Brown logged a career-high 25 points and Tatum recorded a double-double (14 points and 10 rebounds) in his NBA debut.
Not a bad start for the “future of the franchise.”
Both Brown and Tatum have been asked to take on heavier loads than expected because of early injuries to Gordon Hayward, Marcus Morris and Marcus Smart.
Brad Stevens has had no issue throwing Brown and Tatum into the fire for two reasons. One is that they both possess tremendous skill and determination for their age. The other is that, well… the coach doesn’t have many other options.
“We’re in a situation right now where we’re going to expect a lot out of those guys,” Stevens said after Tuesday’s game. “We need them to be great. We need them to be able to respond to adversity ... We have high expectations for them; they should have high expectations for themselves, and they’re getting a great opportunity.”
Brown, who is averaging 18.8 points per game, claims that this is exactly the opportunity he has been hoping for and working toward.
“I talked to coach and my responsibility is a little bit bigger,” Brown said ahead of the game. “[The coaches] ask a lot of me, and I ask a lot of myself. This is what I asked for, so I’m not complaining now that it’s here.”
There’s also not a whole lot to complain about when you have a young, equally motivated teammate who you can feed off of night in and night out. Tatum says he’s trying his best to learn Brown’s game and figure out how they can benefit off of each other’s skills.
“We’ve got to be on the same page,” said the rookie wing. “We’re both young, talented guys. He has a year experience. And I’m just learning on the fly. We’re trying to push each other out there.”
They certainly pushed each other Tuesday night. Both were like human highlight reels on the offensive end, throwing down dunk after dunk, and hitting shot after shot.
The pair combined to shoot 18-of-31 from the field, including 7-of-12 from 3-point range.
Yet, as teammate Al Horford reflected back on the record-setting offensive performance, he said their defense is what impressed him the most.
“A lot of people look at their offensive stuff,” said Horford. “But just defensively with their activity, being in the right positions every time, scrambling on defense – Tatum did that time and time again, and so did Jaylen. It was nice to see them have some success on offense, but defensively, I think that’s where I’m focused with them.”
Brown and Tatum’s well-rounded, collective efforts are also earning praise from Kyrie Irving. The 25-year-old point guard, who hit stardom at a young age, has been impressed with the rapid progression the duo has shown during the beginning stages of the season.
“They’re taking big strides every single day in practice, and they’re showing it in the games,” said the four-time All-Star, who logged 20 points Tuesday night. “It’s still early, but you’ve got to give them credit. They’re coming out ready to play and they’re demanding a lot of themselves, which I really appreciate.”
The strong starts by Brown and Tatum have enforced the common preseason belief that the pair could become the future of the Celtics franchise. But their strong starts have also created an even more exciting notion among Celtics players and fans.
Horford confidently put it into words shortly after Brown and Tatum’s record-setting performance: “They’re here, and they’re making their mark right now.”