The Boston Celtics sit just one win away from Banner 18.

It’s something we’ve always known this core group was capable of, but the timing has never really been right.

Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, the co-leaders of this extended run to the top, have been within reach of a championship for more than half a decade. It was far too early in 2018, when they were ahead of schedule and playing without the two “stars” on their roster — Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. The Miami Heat had historic shooting nights and rode Jimmy Butler to a pair of conference finals upsets over Boston before getting smacked on the biggest stage. Stephen Curry played his best basketball in 2022, perfectly representing the difference between a champion (Golden State) and a collection of talent who had some growing up to do (Boston).

It’s been a long road, but Tatum and Brown are on the doorstep of their first championship together and look primed to deliver. How did they come within one game of finally getting over the hump?

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We’ve never seen them more connected than they are against the Dallas Mavericks.

Game 3 will tell you the story, and although you really just need to look at the box score, there are some concrete examples that took place on the court. Tatum has taken on a play-making role within the offense, often initiating things by driving to the lane and finding open shooters. Brown has been on the receiving end of those open looks, and knocked a couple down Wednesday night at American Airlines Arena — including one off a slick feed that had Kyrie Irving dancing.

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Brown has done a bit more scoring than Tatum, but that’s by design. He’s cutting to the basket, getting open looks from beyond the arc, finding transition opportunities and playing in the teeth of the Mavericks’ defense and knocking down midrange shots. If Tatum is at his best making plays for others, rebounding and defending up, Brown is at his best scoring from all three levels.

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The duo have accepted roles and made sacrifices that put the Celtics in the best spot to win games. You can’t ask for more than that.

“It’s been necessary,” Brown said Wednesday, per league-provided video. “I think anytime you want to achieve something great, it’s going to take sacrifices from each individual to get where you want to go. I knew coming into the season — being one of the leaders — that would be on my plate. I didn’t mind it, and that’s translated to us being in the Finals.”

ESPN and FS1 can tell you about how much these guys hate each other. You can read the expressions on their faces and try to find ways to tear them apart. Do you think they even notice any of it anymore?

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Tatum and Brown shared a long embrace on the court following the Game 3 victory, likely knowing what they’re about to accomplish.

“Just showing the emotions of the game,” Tatum said. “It’s two guys that was excited, tired after the game, we just — we’re not necessarily saying, ‘One more!’ or anything like that. We are just saying, however long it takes. Nobody is relaxed. Nobody is satisfied. Just at that moment, I just told him I was proud of him and he said the same thing; that we’ve got to keep fighting.”

It was already rare to talk about either of them without having the other brought up, but with just one more win, you’ll no longer be able to talk about the duo without mentioning what they’ve become together: champions.

Featured image via Jerome Miron/USA TODAY Sports Images