BOSTON — While it was a shorter offseason than usual for the Boston Celtics, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum couldn’t outrun reminders of their failures in the NBA Finals.
But with a new season beginning Tuesday, the star tandem of the Celtics took the first step in putting all the talk about their shortcomings behind them, and did so in a big way.
The two fueled the Celtics to a 126-117 season-opening win over the Philadelphia 76ers at TD Garden, combining for 70 points on 61.4% shooting. They each poured in 35 points as part of their impressive performances with Tatum also grabbing a team-high 12 rebounds to post a double-double.
“We both are extremely competitive,” Brown said. “Both are trying to get better, trying to make our franchise better. Trying to make our teammates better as we’re out chasing a championship. So, we both had bad summers after losing to the Warriors on our home floor and have to answer for it all summer long. I can speak for him and I can speak for myself that it was tough. So, going into this season, we kept all of that in mind.”
Having to hear about their NBA Finals loss over and over again has armed both Brown and Tatum with plenty of motivation as they look to continue their ascensions. But Tatum also found another driving force to ignite him against the 76ers. The 24-year-old was well aware what was occurring on the other side of country in the Bay Area on the same night that Tatum admitted it caused him to lose some sleep.
“It was a tough summer (for) myself, everybody,” Tatum said. “Everywhere I went, somebody mentioned, ‘Good job in the Finals next year. You guys did well.’ They meant it in a good way, but it’s just a reminder that you lost. That you got to the top and you didn’t get over that hump. So just dealing with that all summer.
“And realizing that it’s Opening Night. One team is getting a ring and we’re not. So, that kind of kept me up late last night. But it’s a new season, just ready to move past it.”
Nothing about Brown and Tatum’s play was listless, though. Tatum turned it on in the third quarter, scoring 17 points in the frame as the Celtics outscored the 76ers by 10 points in the stanza after being tied at halftime. Likewise, Brown found his groove in the second half after a slow start.
But possibly the best part of the showing from the stars was that neither tried to force anything. They weren’t looking to take turns between each other and play iso ball. Instead, the two exploited Philadelphia’s defense in the set up of Boston’s offense.
And to Tatum, that was the difference in this masterful, combined performance than others the two have put together.
“It was just in the flow,” Tatum said. “A lot of times we don’t necessarily call sets, and if we do, it’s kind of random sometimes. But it’s all about making the sacrificial cut, or getting somebody else open, or passing up a good shot for a great shot, getting out in transition. The ball rewards good basketball. The guys trust us to make the right play, and the right play can be for ourselves sometimes and it can be for others.”