Why it's OK to start talking about Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown's All-Star candidacy

Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown celebrate against the Denver Nuggets
Photo credit Getty Images

There were four max contract players at the Garden on Friday. Gordon Hayward, of course, didn’t play, so only three took the floor.

As Celtics fans well know, Jaylen Brown signed an extension before the season started — and it was not a max deal. Jayson Tatum could get a max extension after the season, but he still has to get through 2019-20.

But if you solely examine Friday’s game against the Nuggets, both deserve max money. And it’s not like their respective performances were anomalies.

Tatum and Brown were lights out offensively. Each scored 20-plus points, shot over 50% from the field and grabbed seven rebounds apiece.

“I think everybody sees the steps they have been taking towards becoming better basketball players,” Marcus Smart said. “And I think it shows.”

Meanwhile, Jamal Murray, one of the three max contract players who participated on Friday  — his extension goes into effect next season — wasn’t even remotely close to being on their level. In fairness to the Nuggets, they don’t get talents like Murray and Nikola Jokic (Denver’s other max guy) often. But, while Jokic put up solid numbers (30 points, 10 rebounds), Murray did not step up against a tough opponent (10 points on 5-for-14 shooting).

“It was just a rough night, honestly,” Murray said. “You know, I got frustrated. I’ve been making my first seven, six shots (recently). You know that kind of put us in a slump early.”

Tatum and Brown, on the other hand, showed up against the tough opponent. Well, the Nuggets are supposed to be a tough team. They barely beat the Celtics without Hayward and Kemba Walker (the fourth max player on the floor), on the night Boston’s point guard suffered his scary injury — which also rattled the team.

Then the Celtics were in control from start to finish in their 108-95 win. (For a complete recap of the Celtics' win, click here.)


— Dan Greenberg (@StoolGreenie) December 7, 2019

And Boston took control of the game from the jump because of Brown. Then Tatum took over in the second. Then they both did well in the third. They only had to play a combined 9:20 in the fourth quarter because the game was well at hand.

Brown described himself and Tatum as “Fire and Ice” — though he did not state which is which. Not to be confused with “A Song of Ice and Fire,” the books that inspired Game of Thrones — the show with the most disappointing final season in the history of television, perhaps only rivaled by the 2018-19 Celtics season.

In other words, Brown feels they’re different, but they complement each other well.

“I’m more aggressive and JT’s kind of more laid back,” Brown said. “I like to get to the basket. JT likes to step back and shoot jumpers.

“We both mix it up. Sometimes I like to shoot threes, sometimes he gets to the basket, like he did today. But for the most part, it’s kind of like (we’re) polar opposites.”

As much as Brown and Tatum have had strong starts to the year, there haven’t been many instances where both looked so good at the same time. Denver had no answer.

Following his 21-point performance against the Nuggets, Brown’s 2019-20 points per game average improved to 20. He is now one of 28 players averaging at least 20 points per game this year, joining Tatum (21.2) and Walker (21.8).

Among the group, Brown has the sixth-best field goal percentage (49.6), trailing only Giannis Antetokounmpo, Karl-Anthony Towns, Devin Booker, DeMar DeRozan and LeBron James.