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Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown Lead Celtics to 18th Championship

BOSTON — Jayson Tatum finally found a free path driving downhill, shaking Dereck Lively II and meeting a second defender at the rim, Maxi Kleber, at the rim as he had all series. Plays earlier, Luka Dončić met him there and forced Tatum into a turnaround miss. This time he finished strong for a three-point play that rattled in. Tatum pounded his chest with both fists.

He reached nine assists by halftime, his most ever in a half, feeding Jrue Holiday on the roll and Jaylen Brown from three late in the frame before lining up Dončić himself, pulling up and hitting a three that sent the Celtics racing toward their 18th championship. Their two centerpieces, connected again, combined for 30 points in a 67-46 half, answering Mavs runs throughout and devastating Dallas in transition. Kyrie Irving managed only five, hearing it from fans again and flipping over the ESPN scorer’s table shortly before halftime. Dončić failed to pick up Payton Pritchard at half court before the buzzer and another heave sent the Celtics rushing into the locker room. They went on to win, 106-88.

Tatum and Brown, albeit after a brief second half slowdown provided a scare, won their first championship together two years after the height of calls to split the tandem. Jrue Holiday and Derrick White crashed the glass, cleaned up baskets inside and provided the defensive boost alongside the Jays that became a mainstay in their first season leading the back court. Al Horford, 17 years later, carried nearly all the weight at center for the final three rounds and won his coveted ring in his second stint with Boston. Kristaps Porzingis played through a tear in his left leg, energizing a packed TD Garden with many more on Causeway Street awaiting the end of a 16-year wait. Sam Hauser added eight points off the bench after watching the entire Finals from the bench two years ago.

2024 will hang from the rafters.

The nerves from the start of the Game 4 returned through a 4-for-10 Celtics start where they shot 1-for-4 from three. Jrue Holiday held the line, flying past Luka Dončić and rolling to the rim for an early pair of baskets while scoring Boston’s first six points. Boston also held Dallas to a 1-for-9 start, leading 9-2 with stops like a strip-and-score by Holiday on Kyrie Irving and Jaylen Brown guarding Dončić full court until he rushed a runner for a miss inside. Dončić flipped a fancy pass behind his head to Derrick Jones Jr. alone in the corner, who missed.

Porzingis checked into the game and the Mavs looked prepared for it, Irving beating a back line pre-switch to keep Porzingis low with Derrick White for a miss, but Josh Green beat Porzingis’ drop from three on the following two possessions. Then, the Mavs tried to get him moving, Irving pulling him into the left dunker’s spot before Dereck Lively II cut for a head-on alley oop. Porzingis stayed in the game, tapping a jump ball win to White with the shot clock running out for a three, like in Game 2. He missed his first look from three, rushing to fire it from far behind the line, then lined up Green to draw a foul several possessions later. Sam Hauser hit a three and chased an offensive rebound into the stands during his minutes, while Tatum closed the first ripping the ball from PJ Washington and scoring the other way.

Boston led, 28-18, after one before Hauser’s run carried into the second quarter, hitting at three after tipping a deflection into the back court. Porzingis looked more comfortable into his second stint, stalling Dončić twice in isolation in the corner before he pulled up from three and missed. Washington tossed him to the floor shortly after, which drew some ire from Tatum toward the officials before he reset the offense and found Porzingis underneath for his seventh assist midway through the second quarter. Boston led by 15, and tried a short stint of small ball that allowed a pair of Daniel Gafford cutting finishes.

Horford ran to the scorer’s table, Dallas back within nine, and immediately drove baseline for a finish, later diving to the floor alongside White to record a steal that sent Brown running in transition for a layup. White chipped his front right tooth on the dive. Holiday forced Dončić to the ground, who tossed the ball out of bounds toward the scorer’s table.

Then, after Tatum hit a three to go up by 20 points, Dončić beat Tatum inside for a three-point finish with four seconds on the clock. Pritchard ran to the scorer’s table like he did two games prior, checked in, grabbed the in-bounds pass and beat Dončić to the half court line. Tatum met his first with a chest bump after the half court shot fell, Boston two quarters away from a championship with a 21-point cushion.

That mounted to 26 early in the third after threes from White and Horford, but a parade of Celtics misses inside headlined by Holiday and Tatum, who had point blank looks, while other flat Boston possessions allowed a 12-4 Mavs push. The Celtics fell into a 1-for-14 drought before calling timeout. Brown missed a mid-ranger out of it, missed his follow, then Horford bricked a pair of put back tries directly underneath the basket. Hauser and Brown settled the offense with mid-rangers to maintain a 19-point lead into the fourth, but the defense ultimately bailed out Boston over an 11-minute stretch where they scored eight points, holding Dallas to eight as well.

That’s when Tatum went to the rim — over and over. He stopped and started, finishing and and-one through Lively. He hit a leaning shot that bounced around and fell. He powered and overcame pressure from Dončić at the basket to reach 29 points and put Boston back up by 29, turning to the crowd, pumping them up and then glancing toward his family court side.

 

Bobby Manning

Boston Celtics beat reporter for CLNS Media and host of the Garden Report Celtics Post Game Show. NBA national columnist for Boston Sports Journal. Contributor to SB Nation's CelticsBlog. Host of the Dome Theory Sports and Culture Podcast on CLNS. Syracuse University 2020.

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