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It takes a village – stars included – to become the most feared defense in the NBA. And so it’s time to look past the shiny scoring and playmaking of Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum and give them their defensive flowers.
Brown and Tatum have been two of the centerpieces of Boston’s season-long defensive dominance. Not only did they defend at a high level throughout the regular season, but each All-Star has each shined individually at that end throughout the postseason as well to help lead the Celtics to within two victories of an NBA title.
While scoring draws worldwide attention - and they did plenty of it during Game 3 with a combined 53 points and 14 assists - these two stars have committed themselves to the defensive end of the floor because they know full well that defense is what wins.
“I know we all talk about scoring the ball because that's what everybody likes to see, the ball go in the hoop,” Jaylen Brown said following Thursday’s practice. “But those little things is what helps you win championships.”
Brown and Tatum have been doing those little things on the defensive side of the ball throughout Boston’s magical run to the Finals.
Take Wednesday night’s Game 3, for example. Brown provided the Celtics with multiple highlight-level defensive stops, during which he was draped all over the Warriors like a blanket. The shining moment of his night arrived with 4:43 left in the contest, when Brown hounded Klay Thompson into giving up the ball, and then chased Thompson down for a block from behind after the Warriors guard caught the ball on a cut to the basket.
Everyone in the building recognized the greatness and significance of that play, including Brown. After swatting Thompson’s shot out of bounds, along with Golden State’s chances at a comeback win, Brown took four steps toward Boston’s faithful and screamed at the top of his lungs while flexing.
That was a special moment in front of a special crowd.
Meanwhile, Tatum was also disruptive and rock solid as always at the defensive end. He finished with one steal and played a key role in Boston’s dominant fourth-quarter defense, which surrendered only 11 points to Golden State’s powerful offense. It would be a slight to Tatum to not also mention his extraordinary defensive performance during the first round of the Playoffs against Kevin Durant, during which he made arguably the greatest scorer of all-time look like an average ball player.
Taking a step back, there’s no doubt that Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smart is the engine that makes Boston’s defense go. It’s also true that big men Robert Williams and Al Horford have been elite rim protectors for the Celtics all season long. But without Brown and Tatum committing to the defensive end each and every night, Boston’s defense would be nothing more than average.
These stars have bought in, and really, that’s nothing new. They’ve always excelled at the defensive end of the floor, and now they’re doing it on basketball’s biggest stage.
“It’s who we are. It’s who we’ve been,” Brown said of his and Tatum’s defensive prowess. “Play both sides of the ball.”
When Brown and Tatum are bringing it at both ends, there’s trickle-down effect in terms of accountability. There isn’t a player who can look them in the eyes without bringing the same level of effort to the table at the defensive end of the court.
As Brown stated, “If we’re doing it, everybody got to do it.”
They aren’t just doing it. Brown and Tatum are doing it at the highest of levels. For that, they deserve their defensive flowers as they pursue their first championship as a star-studded duo.