Boston Celtics: Are the Jays the right duo to lead this team to a title?

Jayson Tatum #0 and Jaylen Brown #7 of the Boston Celtics (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
Jayson Tatum #0 and Jaylen Brown #7 of the Boston Celtics (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images) /

The Boston Celtics have to be one of the most frustrating teams in the NBA. Led by two of the best young stars in the game in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, you would figure this team would be able to win more games than they lose. Yet here we are seven games into the 2021-22 season, and the Celtics are already 2-5 and facing a myriad of issues.

A new issue has arisen in each loss this team has taken this season, and last night’s embarrassing loss to the Chicago Bulls was no different. The C’s were playing lights out for three quarters, and held a double digit lead heading into the fourth. The wheels then fell off, as the team was outscored 39-11 in the final frame, and a 14 point lead heading into the fourth turned into a 14 point loss.

It was another outing that made you wonder where things have gone wrong for this team. The game was slipping right out of their reach, but no one on the court seemed to care. Whether it was Chicago forcing a turnover, an ugly shot, or just a lack of execution, Boston showed no fight in the fourth, and some serious questions need to start being asked of this team.

Unfortunately, that starts with the duo of Brown and Tatum. Starting point guard Marcus Smart has already aired out his grievances to the media, claiming the two young stars “don’t want to pass”, only adding to the problems that this team has. If their own teammates are openly questioning whether Tatum and Brown want to do what it takes to win games, the question has to be raised; are Tatum and Brown the right duo to lead the Boston Celtics to their next title?

Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown need to step up for the Boston Celtics

Before we get into the nitty-gritty, I want to clarify that this isn’t an article set up to slander Tatum and Brown. They are two of the best young players this league has to offer, and anytime they take the court together, the team they play for has a shot to win the game, regardless of who their opponent is. The problem is that they haven’t been winning games, and the issues with this team ultimately start with them.

The 2021-22 Boston Celtics team was created to make Tatum and Brown’s lives easier after they struggled to get any support from their teammates last season. New President of Basketball Operations Brad Stevens wheeled and dealed over the offseason to bring in players that would help the star pair win more games. Yet so far that hasn’t been the case.

Let’s start with Tatum, who is generally expected to be the focal point of Boston’s offense on a nightly basis. Stevens seemed intent on bringing in players who could score when defenses keyed in on Tatum. Guys like Al Horford, Dennis Schroder, and Josh Richardson aren’t the most consistent scorers, but they are better than what this team had to offer last season.

The main issue with Tatum is that he seems intent on making sure these guys get as few touches as possible on a nightly basis. It’s just a seven game sample, but Tatum is averaging 24.6 shots per game, which is just absurd. Only compounding the issue is the fact that he’s only shooting 39.5 percent from the field. If you are going to take that many shots per night, you better be hitting more than that.

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Tatum has been painfully inefficient to start the season, but that doesn’t seem to bother him in the slightest. In their most recent loss to the Bulls, Tatum shot just 1/8 in the fourth quarter, and only picked up one assist. Prior to his hero ball efforts in the fourth, Tatum was shooting 7/14 on the game, which is a much prettier line for the eyes, and it’s probably a big reason the team had built up a double digit lead.

Think about it; for the first three quarters, the ball was moving all over the floor. Brown was doing most of the heavy lifting, but Tatum, Horford, Smart, and Schroder all had double digit points. But once the fourth quarter rolled around, the ball movement died. It was back to the isolation ball that Tatum loves to play, and the Bulls simply double teamed him into oblivion.

This isn’t to say that the loss falls solely on Tatum’s shoulders, but he basically treated the fourth quarter as his own personal shootaround. That involved his usually pandering to the referees about missed foul calls, and then sulking his way back on defense. Hopefully it’s just a cold stretch of sorts, because Tatum has endured a relatively miserable start to the season.

Where it feels like Tatum is doing too much on a nightly basis, it almost feels like Brown is doing too little. Aside from two dud performances, Brown has easily been Boston’s most consistent scorer to start the season. He’s attacking the rim with a ferocity he didn’t have last season, and continues to make strides as a three point shooter.

Yet late in games, he seems too content with standing in the corner and letting the game come to him. While Tatum took eight shots in the fourth quarter, Brown took only two. To those who watched the game, it was clear Brown was the Boston Celtics’ most consistent source of offense. He had 28 points heading into the fourth, and there is absolutely no reason he should have ended the game with the same total.

When a guy like Tatum struggles to get going, Brown has to step up and get the ball in his hands. Even if he can’t find a shot, it forces the defense to adapt. Maybe Tatum gets open off the ball, because he certainly wasn’t getting open off Chicago’s double teams.

Similarly to Tatum though, Brown has showed no intent on getting his teammates involved in the game. He’s averaging just 2.5 assists per game, although in his defense, he is rarely bringing the ball up the court. Tatum brings the ball up occasionally, but even then his 3.7 assists per game is way too low of a total for a player of his caliber.

While Smart’s comments last night almost certainly should have been made behind closed doors, he does raise a good point. Tatum and Brown seem intent on doing everything on their own. They are combining for nearly 45 shots per night, which is usually half or nearly half of their team’s total output.

I’m not openly advocating for guys like Smart to have more shots (he is just shooting 29 percent from the field after all), but it makes things way too easy for opposing teams. The Bulls could double Tatum last night because they knew the offense was set up for him to shoot. He failed to adapt, and the Bulls won. Realistically, that’s all it takes to beat the Celtics right now.

It’s still early on the season, but if the Boston Celtics’ struggles continue, there may be increased pressure from fans to breakup the Tatum-Brown duo. It seems absurd when it comes out of my mouth, but this team just isn’t winning. They weren’t winning last season when the same two players were given control of the team, and despite all the change made this offseason, the results are still the same.

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There are a lot of other problems on this team though. For starters, Tatum and Brown still don’t have a great cast of players to support them in these games. Rookie head coach Ime Udoka has also had an awful start to his tenure in Boston, and you can probably make an argument he’s cost the team a couple of games early on.

But this is Tatum and Brown’s team, and when the team struggles, they are going to be the first two people to blame. So far, they haven’t shown us any inkling that they are ready to step up and take charge of this team. And if that doesn’t change soon, it may be in the team’s best interests to look into an alternate path moving forward that doesn’t involve Tatum and Brown taking the court together for the Boston Celtics.