How Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown have set the tone for Celtics with sacrificial play

C’s stars’ scoring numbers are down

NBA trade deadline: Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum key for Celtics


How Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown have set the tone for Celtics with sacrificial play

Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum congratulates teammate Jaylen Brown as the Celtics defeated the Knicks at The Garden last Friday. (Staff Photo/Stuart Cahill/Boston Herald)

Jayson Tatum’s scoring average is down. A year after he became the first player in Celtics history to average 30 points per game in a season, his average is down by nearly three points. Same goes for $300 million man Jaylen Brown, whose scoring average is down by more than four points and at its lowest in four years.

They don’t care.

“We’re winning,” Tatum said after the Celtics improved to a league-best 17-5 record with Tuesday’s win over the Cavaliers. “We’re the best team in the league, so winning takes care of everything.”

With the most talented roster in the NBA following the acquisitions of Kristaps Porzingis and Jrue Holiday this offseason, Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla has challenged his team to sacrifice their egos in the pursuit of a championship. His top two stars have embraced that.

Tatum was reportedly the one who organized the preseason meeting to discuss who among their talented top six would come off the bench, a conversation that ultimately resulted in Al Horford being the man left out of the starting five but reinforced that everyone must be willing to make sacrifices to reach their ultimate goal. Tatum even tweeted that he “told them 1 game this season I’m coming off the bench,” though it remains to be seen if and when that happens.

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But while he hasn’t come off the bench yet, Tatum is backing his word up with sacrificial play. He’s less interested in the individual numbers and points he puts up, and more about impacting the game in other areas that may not necessarily show up in the box score or highlight reels on social media. As the best player on the Celtics, he has taken responsibility in that and it’s translated to the rest of his teammates. He understands, maybe more than anyone, that success is going to look different every night for the Celtics.

“Joe often challenges me to just dominate the game,” Tatum said. “I understand the dynamic of our team and just how talented we are offensively. Myself, JB, D-White, KP, Jrue, Al, everybody has to sacrifice. I’m certain that none of us are averaging career highs in points. They’re all taking a dip. But it’s for the better of the team, our success as a unit is more important, and we understand that. We know what the ultimate goal is, and human nature plays a part. It’s not easy when you’re accustomed to playing a certain way, scoring a certain amount of points per game. You kind of have to empathize for every guy that it’s not easy but we’re winning, and we know we’re gonna need everybody to achieve our ultimate goal. So, it is true, success looks different every night for each guy. But everybody’s contributing at a high rate.”

Mazzulla has been heaping praise on Tatum and Brown for what he described as the duo empowering their teammates. He did so after Friday’s win over the Knicks, when in the first quarter Tatum didn’t score any points and Brown had only taken three shots. “And you couldn’t tell because they were doing other stuff,” Mazzulla said, like facilitating and getting their teammates involved. Mazzulla said that balance and connectivity is critical for the Celtics’ success.

It was on display again in Tuesday’s win over the Cavs. After Porzingis had what he described as a “terrible” first half in which he missed all six of his shots, Mazzulla praised Tatum and Brown for making sure the big man got involved in the second half. As a result, Porzingis scored 19 of his 21 points in the second half while Tatum and Brown impacted the game in other ways.

“When you have guys like Jaylen and Jayson that understand in order for us to get to where we want to go, (Porzingis has) got to play a part in it,” Mazzulla said. “So Kristaps has to be better, but I thought the empowerment of Jaylen and Jayson, even though they were both playing well, they got him the ball in his spots as necessary, and he was able to make plays.”

From the outside, Tatum and Brown might not get a ton of credit because of their relatively modest stat lines for their ability, but Mazzulla believes their ability to play team basketball gets overlooked.

After Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, Who's the Best Player on the Boston  Celtics?

Mazzulla pointed out that Tatum is one of the better screeners in the league and they track the screen assists they produce, which obviously doesn’t get shown in the box score. Brown recently got criticized for producing zero assists across two games but Mazzulla expressed that he thinks assists are one of the most misleading stats because it requires the shot to be made and doesn’t mean that Brown wasn’t passing or making the right read. He pointed out that his potential assists in those games showed that he was making the right plays for his teammates.

Mazzulla talked about other examples of how Tatum and Brown are making individual sacrifices. Perhaps the biggest obstacle for the Celtics in their chase for Banner No. 18 is egos getting in the way on a team littered with talent. But through 22 games, they’re doing the right things. Tatum and Brown have set the tone.

“I think it’s so hard for those two guys because they’re constantly judged by this. It’s like, you just look at this and they’re constantly judged by the three or four loud plays,” Mazzulla said. “And they’re not looked at as, like, learning how to play basketball. …

“These two have to navigate being All-Stars on a good team and that goes overlooked in today because it’s like there’s two All-Stars and a bunch of role players. And we have four, five, six All-Stars and a really well-balanced team. And we can’t be who we (are) if those guys don’t have the humility to be who they are and at the same time make each other better.”

Injury report
Brown is questionable for Thursday’s rematch against the Cavaliers due to a sprained left ankle he suffered in Tuesday’s win. Brown missed a dunk near the end of the first half and landed awkwardly on his ankle. He headed straight to the locker room and returned for the start of the second half without any apparent limitations.

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