“They said we couldn’t play together!”

It was the first thing the Celtics star duo of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown yelled as they embraced each other after taking Game 7 against the Heat to win the Eastern Conference for the first time in their young careers.

When you hear players use the term “they” like that, it’s almost always in reference to the national media or topics on NBA Twitter. Sometimes, players like to oversell the narratives for motivation (looking at you, #WashedKing). But other times, it’s warranted because of how overblown some of the narratives can become on daily TV shows, podcasts, online publications, or anywhere you can get NBA news.

In this instance, the “break up Tatum and Brown” discourse was louder than its ever been this season.

The toughest moment of the season

On Jan. 6, the Celtics had blown a fourth-quarter lead in back-to-back games, this time falling to the Knicks at the hands of an RJ Barrett buzzer-beater 3. The loss brought them to 18-21 on the season, dropping to 11th place – out of the Play-In Tournament picture – in the Eastern Conference standings.

It was the ultimate low-point of Boston’s season, one that Tatum actually referenced in his Game 7 postgame press conference as “the toughest moment” of the year for the team.

You couldn’t turn on any sports channel the next few days without seeing the headline, “Should the Celtics break up Tatum and Brown?”


ESPN’s Kendrick Perkins, who won an NBA title with the Celtics in 2008 and has long been a supporter of the two Jays, had even reached a breaking point in saying it was time to break up Tatum and Brown.

This wasn’t a completely new topic, though.

Earlier in the season, ESPN’s Tim Bontemps released a quote from an anonymous scout that said, “Jaylen and Jayson aren’t making anyone better.”

Long-time basketball writer Jeff Goodman also had a viral quote from a podcast that an anonymous current NBA player told him, “Tatum and Brown can’t be your superstars, they only do things to help their game. They don’t get anyone else easy shots. All they know how to do is score.”

Bleacher Report’s Jake Fischer reported, “I think this is definitely the beginning of the end for the Jayson Tatum-Jaylen Brown pairing” back in December.

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Tatum and Brown respond

At the moment, it was easy to come crashing down on a Celtics team – and their star duo, in particular, for having arguably the most disappointing season in the NBA to that date. But the conversation surrounding Tatum and Brown was a bit odd to me considering they had achieved more at a team level at the ages of 24 and 25, respectively, than some players accomplish in their entire careers.

As a duo, Tatum and Brown had already led the Celtics to two Eastern Conference Finals, they just hadn’t broken through. It was clear they were good enough to be the two best players on a championship-caliber team, they just hadn’t taken that next step.

But at 24 and 25, both under newly signed contract extensions, the Celtics had their two All-Stars locked up for the near future and it would have made no sense to part ways with one of them just because they hadn’t reached an NBA Finals yet.


“We’re both still very far from our prime,” Tatum told JJ Redick on The Old Man and the Three podcast at the All-Star break when asked about the buzz around splitting up him and Brown.

“I think what people don’t understand is that, if you break us up, the grass isn’t always greener. … I couldn’t imagine why you wouldn’t want to have two of the best players that are under 25 on your team.”

The breakthrough

Think about some great duos in the past who needed to learn from a few shortcomings before reaching the NBA’s biggest stage. Chronologically, Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and, most recently, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton, all lost in the Conference Finals before taking the leap to the Finals. Durant and Westbrook aside, all of those duos went on to win NBA titles.

MORE: Jayson Tatum pays tribute to Kobe Bryant in Game 7

John Stockton and Karl Malone needed 11 playoff failures and three Conference Finals shortcomings before they reached the NBA Finals. Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen lost in the Conference Finals in back-to-back seasons before going on their championship run of two separate three-peats.

All of that to say, patience is a virtue when it comes to having two young stars on your roster, allowing them to learn from their experiences before hitting the panic button. And the Celtics saw that come to fruition on Sunday night.


“From saying that we need to split the group up, get rid of somebody or me and JB can’t play together, that fueled us to figure it out and not run from it,” Tatum said after Game 7.

“We’re obviously gonna be here for a while and we trust in each other and we had to be better. I think instead of separating, we became closer and I think it’s shown throughout the season.”

The moment of Tatum and Brown hugging each other and yelling, “They wanted to break us up,” symbolized a turning point in their young careers.

It was a clear message to everyone in the NBA world that they’re more than capable of co-existing and that this duo isn’t going anywhere any time soon.

Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown have the Boston Celtics back on the NBA Finals stage with a chance to win their first NBA title and raise Banner 18 at the TD Garden to retake the lead for most championships in league history.

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