The modern NBA is remarkably impatient. Superstar pairings routinely give up on one another after only a few years. The Boston Celtics know this well, as Kyrie Irving abandoned them after only his second year with the team. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown have been together for five years now. The first four ended in playoff disappointment. This one didn’t get off to a promising start.
Through 47 games, the Celtics were 23-24. Their coach criticized the team publicly. Marcus Smart called out Tatum and Brown by name. After getting knocked out in the first round a season ago, many began to wonder if the Tatum-Brown pairing was viable for the long haul. As valuable as two-way wings are, Boston lacked a traditional playmaker. Moving one of its two young stars might have been a pathway to such a player.
The Celtics held firm. They went on a 28-7 run to end the regular season. They swept Kevin Durant and the Brooklyn Nets. They emerged from a seven-game war against Giannis Antetokounmpo and the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks victorious. Finally, on Sunday, the Celtics put the Miami Heat away. For the first time in their partnership, Brown and Tatum are headed to the Finals, and in a private moment, they couldn’t help but take one last shot at the doubters. “They said we couldn’t play together,” Tatum exclaimed while embracing Brown.
As we learned through this run, the problem was never Tatum and Brown. Yes, they get turnover-prone against the best defense, and, yes, there are times in which the Celtics would benefit from a more traditional floor general, but Brad Stevens managed to build a roster that capitalized on their strengths. The Celtics have the best defense in the NBA. They have a diverse trio of big men that allows them to play any style of basketball. Marcus Smart isn’t a traditional point guard, but he has embraced his playmaking responsibilities and given the Celtics just enough on offense to get by. Al Horford’s passing helps on that front as well. The midseason addition of Derrick White was just as important.
It’s a lesson other teams, and perhaps just as importantly, other superstars, can learn from. The solution to every roster-building problem is not to give away one of your best players. Sometimes patience and tweaking are all it takes to carry a core over the top.