Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum quieting the doubters as they push Celtics to brink of NBA title

DALLAS – Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum embraced at halfcourt.

The Boston Celtics had just extinguished a massive Dallas comeback and defeated the Mavericks 106-99 Wednesday for a 3-0 series lead in the NBA Finals.

Brown and Tatum, the Celtics' two stars, were not celebrating.

However, they understood the significance of the moment. Not only are the Celtics one victory from their first championship since 2008, Brown and Tatum – the Celtics’ foundational players who were drafted in 2016 and 2017, respectively – are on the verge of winning their first championship and quieting doubters who didn’t believe their partnership could produce a title.

“Showing the emotions of the game,” Tatum explained. “Two guys that was excited (and) tired after the game. We're not necessarily saying like 'one more' or anything like that. We are just saying, 'however long it takes.' Nobody is relaxed. Nobody is satisfied.

“Just at that moment, told him I was proud of him and he said the same thing. We've got to keep fighting. We can't relax. And that was basically the conversation.”

Said Brown: "I'm just trying to stay in the moment. It feels great to be up 3-0 in the series but the job is not done."

Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum embrace after the Celtics defeated the Mavericks in Game 3.
Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum embrace after the Celtics defeated the Mavericks in Game 3.

Now in their seventh season together, Brown and Tatum are the main reasons why the Celtics won Game 3 and their on-court maturity is obvious. Brown scored 30 points, delivered eight assists, collected eight rebounds and blocked one shot, and Tatum had 31 points, six rebounds, five assists and one steal. They're just the second set of Boston teammates to score at least 30 points in an NBA Finals game, joining John Havlicek (40 points) and Bailey Howell (30 points) who did it in Game 6 of the 1968 Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers.

Yes, the Celtics are an impressive offensive and defensive team with valuable players beyond Brown and Tatum. But the team is built around those two.

“(It's) those guys' ability to know what shots they (are) taking and (they) continue to take the right ones over and over again,” Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla said of his two stars.

At pivotal moments, they made winning plays. “Obviously the strength of this team is the team,” Celtics guard Derrick White said. “But we understand that JB and JT, they are our guys, and they are going to make big plays and they are going to make the right play.

“The most important part is just we trust them to make the right play every time down the court, and they are facing literally every coverage known to man. ... We just trust them so much.”

In the third quarter in which Boston outscored Dallas 35-19 for an 85-70 lead headed into the fourth quarter, Brown and Tatum combined for 22 points – 15 from Brown.

And then late in the fourth quarter – after Dallas had turned a 21-point deficit into a 93-92 deficit – Brown and Tatum made shots that kept Dallas from pulling off an amazing comeback victory.

“Those are our leaders,” reserve forward Xavier Tillman said. “For them to step up how they did in the third quarter and take the game over is what we needed. They came through for us especially in the fourth quarter with those last four to five minutes where we were struggling to get a bucket. They willed in the buckets. At times, that's what you need, and they responded, and we needed it for sure.”

Brown, 27, and Tatum, 26, have played in the conference finals multiple times and the NBA Finals one previous time. The title is missing, but Celtics management never wavered in its belief in the pairing.

Maybe last season or the season before, Game 3 is the kind of game the Celtics lose. But they have learned to win these games. That comes from experience and becoming better players.

“We were able to make plays and find a way to win,” said Brown, who was the Eastern Conference finals MVP and is in the running for Finals MVP. “And we've been in those positions, and we've lost. It was great to overcome that with my brother, Jayson, and with our team. That was special.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Celtics' trust in Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum paying off in NBA Finals