Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown keep their promise to each other


Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown keep their promise to each other

Former ESPN analyst Kendrick Perkins, a former Boston Celtics center, was the loudest of a growing number of people in and around the NBA demanding that his former team be released on Jan. 7, the day after they added a 25th point lead the New York Knicks and dropped out of the playoff picture.

“You can’t coexist,” Perkins told a national television audience.

This comes three weeks after an anonymous general manager Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report said of the developing all-star wing tandem, “I think there’s a pretty widespread belief that they’re not working together.”

Six months later, Tatum and Brown stand on the precipice of their first NBA Finals appearance after scoring or assisting 45 of the Celtics’ 56 second-half points in the road win over veteran Miami Heat in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Game 6 is Friday in Boston.

“We just have to get out there and play basketball,” Brown told reporters of his partnership with Tatum after Wednesday’s 93-80 win. “We feel like there aren’t many people who can play basketball with both of us. If he starts, if I start, we know we’ll put ourselves in a good position to win.”

Brown is 25 years old. Friday’s elimination opportunity is the 24th Conference Finals game of his career. Tatum is 24 and has played alongside Brown in three of the Celtics’ four East Finals games since 2017. The thought of separating them now is just as ridiculous for Boston’s front office as it was then, only now the rest of the league has no choice but to acknowledge what Brad Stevens thought was ridiculous in January.

“They’re by far the least of my concerns,” the Celtics manager told The Athletic’s Jay King on Jan. 17.

These conference finals were also not without criticism for the best duo in the NBA under 25 years of age. Their 13 combined turnovers in the Game 3 loss drew doubts about their mental toughness against a Heat team that also bullied them in the 2020 Conference Finals. How quickly people forgot their efforts against Kevin Durant’s Brooklyn Nets and Giannis Antetokounmpo’s defending champion Milwaukee Bucks.

Tatum and Brown aren’t the players they were two years ago, and they’re miles from taking a 3-2 lead over the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2018 Conference Finals. They were 19 and 20 years old at the time. Neither had previously made an All-Star team or even averaged 15 points per game, but there they were, Boston’s two leading playoff scorers with a chance to eliminate LeBron James and reach the NBA Finals .

The bubble was an even better shot, but Miami’s Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo manhandled them in six games. Boston finished last season on .500, lost a one-sided first-round streak to the Nets and looked just as mediocre to start this season. So Tatum and Brown met after losing to the Knicks on Jan. 6.

Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown have led the Boston Celtics to a single NBA Finals win for the second time in their careers.  (Jim Rassol/USA Today Sports)

Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown have led the Boston Celtics to a single NBA Finals win for the second time in their careers. (Jim Rassol/USA Today Sports)

“We see all the things about ‘we can’t play together,’ and everyone in the media says one of us has to go,” Tatum told reporters a few days later. “We were just talking about it [how] We both want to be here and we both want to find out. There aren’t many players in the league like JB. The grass isn’t always greener. …

“I think the most important thing is that we both want it badly and we want to try to figure it out together. It’s extremely important for us to be on the same page, to know that we have each other’s backs and we’re going to do whatever it takes to find that out no matter what people say.”

Since then, the Celtics have been the most dominant team in the league. Tatum has made the All-NBA first-team, and Brown is knocking on the door of a third-team pick. Together they’ve pushed the Heat to the brink, and they’ll draw on their experience against James, Durant and Antetokounmpo – the only others other than Miami they’ve ever beaten in a playoff series – with their latest and greatest title shot on the line .

You’d think Tatum and Brown were finished products given the number of times we’ve seen them on this stage. Brown is one of eight players in NBA history to make more than 75 playoff games before age 26, and only Kobe Bryant had more playoff points than Tautm’s 1,508 at his age. (It took the late Los Angeles Lakers legend 10 more games and 124 more field goal attempts to get there.) They rise into rarefied air.

No one questions anymore whether the Celtics should part ways with any of them. Instead, we have to ask ourselves how long they could play together and what they could accomplish before they’re done. Brown is signed until 2024 and Tatum may enter free agency in 2025, but they’re confident they can win a title this year and that might be enough to convince them to tie their careers together in Boston for their prime .

The important things first. Another win against Miami and three-time champions Golden State Warriors likely awaits you in the Finals. Months after Jayson and Jaylen vowed to “find out,” the NBA is theirs.

As Tatum tried to explain to everyone on JJ Redick’s Old Man and the Three podcast in February, “I couldn’t see why you wouldn’t want two of the best players under 25 on your team.”

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Ben Rohrbach is a senior editor at Yahoo Sports. Do you have a tip? Email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter! Follow @brohrbach

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