2024 NBA Finals: Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown finally deliver the dream for Celtics

BOSTON — The duality of the moment Monday night couldn’t be lost on anyone, not a soul in the shaken and stirred TD Garden.

The warmth for Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. The heat for Kyrie Irving — just as hot and powerful, but it felt different.

One wouldn’t get in the way of the other, just as Tatum and Brown refused to be divided. And they refused to lose the stranglehold they had on this NBA Finals, clearly displaying they have the superior team and clearly graduating to the land of the elite.

The Boston Celtics flipped their tassels to the other side in a haze of green glory, dismantling the overmatched Dallas Mavericks in Game 5 of the NBA Finals with a dominant 106-88 closing win.

The championship is banner No. 18 that will hang in the rafters, breaking a tie with the Los Angeles Lakers. The game was a mere coronation, but one that was earned in this building, on this night.

The smell of cheap Champagne and cigars was unavoidable Monday night, but it was probably nauseating two years ago when Stephen Curry painted his masterpiece using the Celtics as a blank canvas, finishing them off in a Game 6 at the Garden.

Last year was the embarrassing Game 7 loss to the eighth-seeded Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference finals after Boston battled back from a 3-0 deficit and threatened to make real history by being the first to achieve such a comeback in the NBA.

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - JUNE 17: Jayson Tatum #0 high fives Jaylen Brown #7 of the Boston Celtics after a play against the Dallas Mavericks during the second quarter of Game Five of the 2024 NBA Finals at TD Garden on June 17, 2024 in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Jayson Tatum high-fives Jaylen Brown after a play against the Dallas Mavericks during the second quarter of Game 5 of the NBA Finals at TD Garden on Monday in Boston. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

It was almost poetic the Celtics exorcised those demons in their building — the demanding and unrelenting fans whose belief in this team was matched only by the suffocating expectations, and they thought their two best players couldn’t do it as headliners, let alone together.

But there was Tatum, facilitating, rebounding and making up for a subpar shooting series, finally breaking loose to score 31 with 11 assists and eight rebounds. Brown, who won Finals MVP by a 7-4 margin over Tatum, scored 21 points with six assists and eight rebounds. He hounded the wounded Luka Dončić all night long, wearing him down and having him look over his shoulder even when no one was there.

Like ghosts were near.

That’s something these Celtics are all too familiar with, the ghosts of the past setting the expectations. The ghosts of the past named Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, whose departure to Brooklyn set this night in motion over 10 years ago.

So there were Tatum and Brown, in the locker room, with Brown cradled underneath Tatum’s arm as Tatum doused his teammates with Champagne, bouncing up and down like middle schoolers, finally able to release the pent-up emotion.

Now, they’re the boogeymen, the standard that will live in the dreams and nightmares of the Mavericks, who learned how long and how hard you have to play.

The Celtics were relentless and unwavering, even as they dropped three games through this playoff run and it felt like the sky was falling because it always does.

Now, they’re living in the clouds — white smoke and a trip to Miami next, according to the white board in their locker room.

“It's a surreal feeling. Still has not really kicked in yet,” Tatum said. “Just trying, I guess, to enjoy the moment. I kept saying, 'Wow.'

“These last seven years have been a roller coaster, up and down. I had to listen to all the s*** that people said about me, and tonight, it was worth it. Oh, my God.”

The usually demure Tatum howled multiple times, while Brown stayed true to his demeanor but smiled wide.

“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.”

The duo you couldn’t trust became the ones who lifted each other in moments of strife. This endured because they endured. That seems to be a necessary attribute in today’s NBA, despite the structure calling for constant change.

When Kevin Durant asked out of Brooklyn (the first time), the Celtics were on his list of teams. To make a deal work meant sacrificing Brown.

No can do, and it paid off.

“I think they knew what they had,” Jrue Holiday told Yahoo Sports. “They knew they had gold. And it was just a matter of time before a situation like this would happen, where we get a ring and hopefully more to come.”

It’s no guarantee, but look at the recent champions. They all share a organizational stubbornness, setting an ethos, sticking to the plan and being pliable when moments arise. For the Denver Nuggets, it was making sure Nikola Jokić had the right pieces around him. For the Golden State Warriors, a dogged belief Curry could lead with Klay Thompson and Draymond Green as sidekicks, that their championship equity would appear. For the Milwaukee Bucks, riding the relentless energy of Giannis Antetokounmpo and adding the right guy at the right time in Holiday, never buckling when the calls for change became louder.

These Celtics have a little bit of all that in their DNA, even if they don’t possess a supernova, that singular talent that erases mistakes. But employing the best six-man rotation in the NBA has to count for something, and leaning into the math of the day that says shooting more 3s and defending at a high level means you’ll run away and hide at the first moment of opposition slippage held true.

“It really starts with them,” Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla said of his players. “You can't have a philosophy or a way of playing if you don't have a group of guys that are willing to buy into it and be disciplined. Quite honestly, this group of guys has been through so much in the league, they know what it takes.”

There was reasonable question if the Celtics knew what it took, specifically Tatum and Brown. Could Tatum grow into an MVP type and Brown maximize himself simultaneously? Honestly, the two had to make room for each other, a hierarchy had to be established while each player navigated his own path.

It’s been a Rubik’s Cube for this franchise over the past several years, swapping out point guards like Irving, Kemba Walker, Marcus Smart and now, Holiday. Bringing in the oft-injured Kristaps Porziņģis this season, knowing his medical chart and having it flare up, but being good enough to withstand it. Having Brad Stevens as coach, then him unexpectedly going to the front office and hiring Ime Udoka — who took them to the Finals but was fired months later for interoffice misconduct.

Then the young Mazzulla stepped in, weeks before last season began. And let’s not forget, Al Horford being a mainstay, then leaving, then getting back again and being able at age 37 to man the middle.

“Nobody deserved it more than Al,” Brown said. “He's been a great not just leader on the court but off the court as well. Just a mentor.

“Like just his performance all season long, like Al is 37, 38 years old, and we leaned on him so much. Probably too much for his age and where he's at. He just delivered. So consistent, so disciplined with his body. Never complains, you know what I mean. The only thing he does is add to winning.”

Until Monday, Horford played the most playoff games without a title, and Brown and Tatum were close to leading the dubious list of teammates with extra years of playoff experience on their ledger without a ring.

Those marks evaporated in a puff of white smoke, captured by Tatum picking up his son, Deuce, and hoisting him to the sky in a moment that will be framed forever in the Tatum household.

“He told me that I was the best in the world,” Tatum said of that moment. “I said, 'You’re damn right I am.'”

It wasn’t quite Garnett’s “Anything is possible!” roar from 16 years ago, but it’ll live in lore. That team was forged from desperation and years of malaise.

But it took hard decisions to realize that team could no longer contend, and the door was closed on an era, the franchise’s best since Larry Bird stalked the Garden floors.

So when then-GM Danny Ainge shipped Garnett and Pierce to Brooklyn, one of the pieces he received in return was the draft capital to select Brown in 2016. Then Tatum a year later, thanks to more draft-night thievery.

It means these two championship teams are bonded together, transactionally and practically.

Tatum and Brown are bonded forever, young enough to have the wounds, but old enough to experience what their idols have.

“It took being relentless,” Tatum said. "It took being on the other side of this and losing in the Finals and being at literally the lowest point in a basketball career that you could be, to next year, to the following year, thinking that was going to be the time, and come up short again.

“And now, to elevate yourself in a space that, you know, all your favorite players are in, everybody that they consider greats or legends have won a championship, and all of the guys I looked up to won a championship, multiple championships.

“So now I can, like, walk in those rooms and be a part of that.”

The door has opened, and the Celtics plan on staying awhile.