By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) -- Monday night's Game 1 win over the 76ers probably won't go down as one of the Celtics' best playoff victories in the franchise's storied history. But it could very well go down as a preview of the greatness that is to come from the team's rising stars, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.
The Jays are the future of the franchise. Everyone knows that, because it's a tune that the Celtics and fans have been singing for the last three seasons. On Monday night, that song could have won a Grammy.
Boston's dynamic duo combined for 61 points and played some phenomenal defense throughout the Celtics' 109-101 victory over Philadelphia. It's the most combined points the Jays have had in a playoff game in their young careers.
On a night like that, it's OK to overreact a tad.
Tatum led all scorers with a playoff career-high 32 points, hitting 10 of his 21 attempts while adding 13 rebounds. He did most of his damage in the first half, putting up 21 points before the break. Brown dropped 29 of his own, leading his charge with 15 points in the fourth quarter, playing a pivotal role as Boston held off a late Philly charge. The fact that he did so after taking a Joel Embiid knee to the hip earns him even more brownie points.
"Those two dudes are super special talents. Every big moment, they made big plays," Kemba Walker said of his young teammates. "It's really fun to watch and be part of their growth. Hopefully this continues and they continue to get better, which they're doing."
Tatum got much of the spotlight throughout the season, and his 32 points will garner most of the attention from Monday. But Brown was monumental for the Celtics in Game 1, canning a couple of much-needed threes in the fourth quarter. His first tied the game at 86-86 with 8:34 to play, a momentum-changing basket as Boston took the lead 40 seconds later on a pair of Marcus Smart free throws. They never trailed again.
Brown came up huge a few minutes later, draining another triple with 4:29 left to give Boston a 99-91 lead. He was wide open thanks to his hustle, running the floor in transition after Tatum rejected a Josh Richardson shot at the other end. The basket gave Boston some much needed breathing room down the stretch, and with both Tatum's and Brown's fingerprints all over the play, it was a glimpse of what the two young players can do in crunch time.
"I can't stress enough how important JB is and how special he is, how special we need him to be on a nightly basis," Tatum said of Brown. "We just have to play off each other. We do different things out there, so we just play to our strengths and be aggressive."
"We just have to fight. That's what it comes down to," Brown said after the game. "Who wants it the most, who wants to fight. Tonight we battled, we were the more physical team and we came out on top. I was proud of us and we have to keep that fight up if we want to win this series."
Tatum was scorching hot early in the game, pulling out everything from his bag of tricks to help the Celtics build a 10-point lead in the second quarter. He had 15 points in that frame, hitting on his stepback, his floater, his fallaway, his awkward drives to the hoop and his deep strikes. Whatever Tatum wanted to do, he did it in the second quarter and there wasn't much the 76ers could do to stop him. He matched his previous playoff-high of 28 points at the seven-minute mark of the third.
Unfortunately, that's where Tatum stayed until he hit four free throws in the game's final minute. He missed all three of his shots from the floor in the fourth quarter.
But even though Tatum couldn't find the bottom of the basket, he continued to play some stellar defense, getting his wiry frame into any and all Philly passing lanes. Tatum has not only emerged as an elite scorer this season, but a solid defender as well, and extremely underrated aspect of his game.
"For me, if I'm trying to be one of the best players in the league, defense has got to be just as important as scoring the ball," he said. "That's what we build our culture on here with the Celtics."
And when Tatum was struggling offensively, that's when Brown turned it on. The swingman made four of his five shots in the fourth, three of which came from downtown, and he hit all four of his free throws.
What a luxury for Brad Stevens.
"That's what they've done their whole careers. Playoffs and regular season, they've consistently gotten better," Stevens said of his star duo. "It's about how they're built, and those guys both make big plays They work really hard and prepare for big moments, offensively and defensively."
Monday night with the Jays is why Boston's future is so bright, and why the present is filled with so much promise. Tatum and Brown proved throughout the regular season that they have arrived, ready to perform on the game's biggest stage. They've done it in the playoffs before, leading the team to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2018 despite Tatum being a rookie and Brown having just a year of NBA service under his belt. But that was when an injury-plagued Celtics team had nothing to lose. This year, there are some lofty expectations for Boston.
There are several factors as to why those expectations are so high, but it begins and ends with Tatum and Brown. How far the Celtics go this postseason depends on the team's star duo.
If Monday night was a preview, the Celtics are in great hands -- both now and for years to come.
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