2024 NBA FinaIs: Is Jaylen Brown the Celtics' best player? That's not what Boston cares about

Dallas Mavericks head coach Jason Kidd just said what many have been wondering in these playoffs.

"Well, Jaylen's their best player," he said. As in Jaylen Brown, not Boston Celtics teammate Jayson Tatum.

“Looking at what he does defensively, he picked up Luka [Dončić] full-court, got to the free-throw line, did everything, and that’s what your best player does," added the Hall of Fame point guard. "Understanding he plays both sides, defense and offense, at a high rate, and he's been doing that the whole playoffs, when you talk about the Eastern Conference MVP, and it seems like he's picked up where he left off.”

You could make the argument that Brown has been Boston's best player in these playoffs. He did win Eastern Conference finals MVP honors and deserved it. He has been the heartbeat of his team, playing with a force whenever the game has demanded it — however rarely, in Boston's case this postseason.

It was his game-tying 3-pointer that sent Game 1 to overtime against the Indiana Pacers and his assist to Derrick White that sealed the sweep and his overall effectiveness that controlled Game 1 against Dallas.

Jaylen Brown is awesome. This is where that part of the conversation ends.

The rest of it is perhaps some gamesmanship from Kidd, whose 30 years in the NBA would have him know this will be seen as a shot at Tatum, a deserving three-time All-NBA First Team forward. Tatum, the 2022 Eastern Conference finals MVP, is awesome, too, and that is supposed to be a problem in the NBA.

How could two awesome players be awesome together? One has to be better than the other. Right? We must split them apart. Destroy their egos. For two superstars cannot co-exist on the same team at the same time. This is ... preposterous! That is what people who did not give Brown an All-NBA vote will say.

Boston Celtics guard Jaylen Brown goes up for a dunk against the Dallas Mavericks during the first half of Game 1 of basketball's NBA Finals on Thursday, June 6, 2024, in Boston. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
Celtics guard Jaylen Brown goes up for a dunk against the Dallas Mavericks during the first half of Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Thursday, June 6, 2024, in Boston. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

I do not think those are general rules to the real world. I think what is brilliant about these Boston Celtics is that two players, 27 and 26 years old, are playing at the top of this game at the moment they need to.

Tatum is slumping as a shooter in these playoffs. He is shooting 29.9% from 3-point distance, well below his regular-season and career averages. He scored 16 points on 16 shots in the Game 1 win over the Mavs.

And that is where this part of the conversation ends.

For to criticize Tatum further would be to tear one player down in order to praise another.

We can say Tatum was good in Game 1 and has been great overall in these playoffs. It is his playmaking as the primary focus of opposing defenses that unlocked history's highest-rated offense. It is his ability at 6-foot-8 to defend opposing centers that allows Boston's bigs to serve roles as roaming rim protectors.

Brown is great. Kristaps Porziņģis, Jrue Holiday, Derrick White, Al Horford — all great players. If you ask me, Tatum is Boston's best player. And if you ask me, I might say Brown has been its best player in these playoffs, but that is also partly because opposing defenses defend Tatum as if he is Boston's best player.

This is how Kidd defended Tatum in Game 1, as Boston's best player. He repeatedly crowded Tatum's space and forced him to spin the ball into rotation, where the Celtics dizzied Dallas' defense. His five assists equaled Holiday and White and produced an additional 13 points. His 14 potential assists were a game high. Tatum was finding open shooters, and there are opportunities for his production to improve.

I do not really want to take this conversation any further.

Neither did Mavericks star Kyrie Irving, who addressed a separate question about how public debates over "Who is the best player on the team?" impact a locker room, unaware of Kidd's comments on Brown.

"A lot of people don't know what they are talking about," Irving told reporters.

"I do my best to nonchalantly push that conversation to the side of 1A, 1B or 'Whose team is it?' — this, that," added Irving. "I'm just here to play basketball. It's a dream come true to be at this level. ... As a teammate, you just want to push those other things to the side that don't really matter or get you better as a team. So we just leave it to everybody else to argue whose team it is and who has the most responsibility. It's all our jobs to be prepared. S****y conversation, but it has to happen in sports."

Sounds like there is some drama in the Dallas locker room, if you ask me. (You did not. I am just joking, of course.) The Celtics also saw through the narrative Kidd might have been spinning ahead of Game 2.

"No reaction," Tatum said in response to Kidd's comments. "This is a team sport. We understand that. We wouldn't be here if we didn't have JB on our team, and we can say that for a lot of guys. We have all played a part in getting to where we're at, and we understand that people try to drive a wedge between us. I guess it's a smart thing to try to do. We've been in this position for many years of guys trying to divide us and say one of us should be traded or one is better than the other. So it's not our first rodeo."

"I don't have no reaction," added Brown. "It's a team game. We're trying to focus on that, and, you know, everybody has their own opinions."

Boston's Al Horford was more to the point:

Horford would know. He played seven seasons opposite Kidd. He wants no part of the conversation.