This isn’t about Jayson Tatum singularly, or Kyrie Irving, or about 50-point games, triple doubles and All-Star appearances.
It’s about this:
Take a good look at that final, big bucket of yesterday’s 126-120 win yesterday by the Celtics over the Brooklyn Nets, folks. With 39 seconds remaining, clinging to a three-point lead, the Celtics’ final, decisive field goal of the game came from a three-man game played between Tatum, Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown, each of whom trusted the other to do the right thing at the hardest time.
Facing a double-team in the paint, Brown kicked the ball out to Smart, who bounced the ball to Tatum, who encountered another double team. So Tatum sent it back to Smart, who swung it back to Brown, who – with the shot clock dwindling – calmly let defender Goran Dragic fly by before burying a dagger of a 3-pointer.
It was textbook.
In the grand scheme of things – and at the risk of pooping on the party – let’s all remember that yesterday was one game, in early March, in Boston, against a Brooklyn team still led by the best player in the world. Ben Simmons still has not played a game for the Nets. Dragic just joined them. And even the otherworldly Kevin Durant has just returned from a knee injury.
And lest you think otherwise, the Nets have another gear, one that veteran players like Durant summon when the games – the far more meaningful ones – are played during the spring.
But this? The Celtics needed it. For themselves. So if you want to puff out your chests today and think the Celtics will be a factor during this year’s NBA playoffs, go right ahead. They can be. They should be. Whether they will be is entirely up to them and it always has been.
Said Smart to reporters after the game: “We know the potential we have. We understand how good we can be. We understand that these types of tests like [yesterday] are going to show us who we really are and who we really want to be.”
Pretty important words there.
And probably just in the nick of time.
Look, we all know the story here – and what is at stake. Smart, Brown and Tatum first became a trio five years ago, when Tatum joined the group. In that first year, the Celtics reached Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals, where they lost to LeBron James. They have been pretty much sliding backwards ever since. But the Celtics are now 21-6 in their last 27 games, outscoring opponents by an average of more than 12 points per game. (This is a whopping margin in the NBA.) They’ve beaten bad teams and, now, good ones, posting a 3-0 mark this week against Atlanta, Memphis and Brooklyn, rosters that feature some of the best players in the game.
Can it continue? Will it? Yes. And presumably. Growth is not linear, as we all are being reminded yet again, which means there will still be more adversity, more disappointment, more frustration. And as such, the long-term fate of the Tatum-Brown-Smart Celtics will not be decided so much by moments like yesterday.
It will be decided during moments like those.