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‘I trusted him. He trusted me.’ Brown and Tatum answered critics while leading Celtics to 18th title

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BOSTON (AP) — In 2008, the Celtics ended a 22-year championship drought led by a Big 3.

Sixteen years later, they did it again following the play of a dynamic duo.

When Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum were drafted third overall in back-to-back years in 2016 and 2017, they were almost instantly branded with the hopes of a franchise that was desperately chasing its elusive 18th championship.

Along the way they’ve endured criticism about their individual play and questions about whether two players with similar skillsets could co-exist.

They answered those questions emphatically on Monday night, leading to Celtics to a 106-88 Game 5 NBA Finals victory over the Dallas Mavericks to capture the franchise’s 18th championship, setting it alone among NBA champions.

“Getting drafted, that’s something that you dream about. But this is at the top of the mountain,” Tatum said afterward. “To be able to say we did it, that we came together and we won a championship. Banner No. 18 has been hanging over our head for so many years. To know that we’re going to be engraved in history, and it still hasn’t like registered. I’m just still trying to process it all.”

Tatum and Brown grasped their first Larry O’Brien Trophy after 107 playoff games together, the most for any duo before winning a title.

It took longer than expected, but Tatum said it was part of a process he didn’t fully understand until celebrating postgame.

“Coming up short and having failures makes this moment that much better,” he said. “Because you know what it feels like to lose. You know what it feels like to be on the other side of this and be in the locker room and hearing the other team celebrating, hearing them celebrate on your home floor. That was devastating.”

Tatum finished with 31 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds in Monday’s win. It is the third-most points scored by a Celtics player in a Finals clincher behind only John Havlicek (40 vs. Lakers, 1968) and Tommy Heinsohn (37 vs. Hawks, 1957).

Brown had 21 points, eight rebounds and six assists. But he earned Finals MVP honor on the heels of a 30-point performance in Game 3 that gave the Celtics a 3-0 lead.

“It could have gone to Jayson,” Brown said of the MVP award. “Jayson, I can’t talk enough about his selflessness. I can’t talk enough about his attitude. It’s just how he approached not just this series or the Finals but just the playoffs in general. And we did it together as a team, and that was the most important thing.”

Brown and Tatum’s journey has included five trips to at least the conference finals together, as well as a 2022 loss in the Finals to the Golden State Warriors in a series that saw Boston relinquish a 2-1 lead.

Still, Celtics ownership continued to build around them, even through shakeups that included failed free agency acquisitions of Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, as well as changes to the core of the ’22 Finals teams that included trading longtime veteran Marcus Smart and former NBA Sixth Man of the Year Malcolm Brogdon.

It only intensified the microscope under Brown and Tatum, said veteran Al Horford, who has played alongside them for six of his 17 years in the NBA.

He’s in awe of the maturity they’ve displayed at 27 and 26 years old, respectively.

“Those two guys continue to take steps forward. People all year criticizing them, all that expectation, all the pressure,” Horford said. “They did it. And they’ve done it at a young age. They led our group. I’m just very proud of those guys and to put everything aside and focus on winning.”

Brown said he’s most proud of how he and Tatum have grown together over the past seven seasons together.

“We’ve been through a lot, the losses, the expectations,” Brown said. “The media have said all different types of things: We can’t play together, we are never going to win. We heard it all. But we just blocked it out, and we just kept going. I trusted him. He trusted me. And we did it together.”

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AP NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/nba

By KYLE HIGHTOWER
AP Sports Writer

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