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NBA Finals: Tatum & Brown v Doncic & Irving

An NBA Finals series is so often decided by the best player, but the two duos will determine the 2023-24 champion as Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown prepare to go head-to-head with Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving. 

Jayson Tatum & Jaylen Brown

Many thought Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown couldn’t make it work. They tried and failed, and a significant group of people within NBA fandom hailed their partnership as a failure—one that simply couldn’t work in the future because it didn’t work then and there.

The ‘then and there’ was the 2022-23 Eastern Conference Finals.

Following dominant regular seasons for the pair and a 52-25 record for 2nd in the East, the Celtics made relatively hard work of their series against the Atlanta Hawks and Philadelphia 76ers before losing to the Miami Heat in the conference finals.

From there, questions about how well Tatum and Brown could coexist hit a fever pitch.

In response, Tatum produced a season in which he finished 6th in the Most Valuable Player votes. He averaged 26.9 points, 4.9 assists and a career-high 8.1 rebounds per game throughout the regular season. Meanwhile, Brown added 23 points per game, 5.5 rebounds and a career-high 3.6 assists per game.

The team looks a lot different than it did at this time last year. Still, the Tatum/Brown duo is the centrepiece. They are where the Celtics will win or lose the 2023-24 NBA Finals. It’s either glory and apologies or another summer questioning their championship potential together.

But no two players in the NBA have won more games since 2018 than Tatum and Brown.

They’re tied with Larry Bird and Kevin McHale for the most 25+ point Playoff games as a duo in Celtics history with 17 to go 14-3 in those games.

For better or worse, Tatum and Brown know they’re different, yet both understand the strengths and weaknesses of the other. They’re both explosive and skilled wings but they harness those attributes in different ways. Tatum is the A1 of an A-tier pair but Brown picked up the Eastern Conference MVP award. Brown excelled defensively and will be expected to do so again in the NBA Finals. With the game on the line, Tatum will get the first look.

Tatum and Brown are playoff veterans at this point; they’ve never missed the playoffs and are entering their second NBA Finals. Securing an 18th championship is all they need to go down as one of the best duos in franchise history.

Luka Doncic & Kyrie Irving

Luka Doncic is the best player remaining. So often, NBA Finals comes down to which team has the best player.

Nobody has been able to stop Doncic this season. He put himself in the conversation to win the Most Valuable Player award throughout the regular season. In the playoffs, and while nursing an injury, Doncic has averaged 28.8 points, 9.6 rebounds and 8.8 assists per game with a 51.3% effective field goal percentage. He does whatever he wants on the basketball court. The Celtics can scheme to defend him as much as the like. They can decide to put somebody on him to start a sequence, but if Doncic doesn’t like the look, he will figure out a way to find one he does.

Doncic dictates the opposition’s defence whether they like it or not.

“The reason Irving is so crucial to this series, is his ability to take over a game. He’s one of the best clutch players in the NBA, and if the Celtics find a way to shut down Doncic, they’ll have Irving to deal with.” NBA Finals Preview

The Celtics won’t shut Doncic down, but they could slow him ever so slightly. However, Irving has proven to be the best teammate Doncic has ever had.

As a duo, Doncic and Irving have averaged 51.6 points, 14.0 assists and 13.5 rebounds throughout the NBA playoffs. Luka gets things started before Kyrie earns his keep late in the game.

They pair perfectly. Where other backcourt duos have featured a Batman (James Harden, Steph Curry) and more one-dimensional Robin (Russell Westbrook, Klay Thompson), both Doncic and Irving can create offence for themselves or others with every touch. Both can close games depending on the game or opposition in front of them.

Regular season series and form don’t always tell us a lot, but Doncic averaged a triple-double in two games against the Cetics this season. Where the Mavericks have made roster adjustments and improved, the Celtics have been elite on the defensive end all season, and Jayson Tatum, Jrue Holiday, and Derrick White—the three players expected to rotate onto Doncic—were all healthy in both games.

Boston boasts the better team, but they need to contain what some are calling “arguably the best offensive backcourt in the history of the NBA.”

It will take a team effort to contain Doncic and Irving in this one. Even then, the pair is good enough to keep games close and put pressure on a Celtics team that does have a few demons to overcome.

Which Duo Wins?

If we’re playing two-v-two, it’s hard to look past Doncic and Irving. They can do it all with the ball, and are two of the best isolation players in the NBA. Score or facilitate, both Doncic and Irving have Tatum and Brown covered.

However, the Celtics duo play with the benefit of a deeper team. They can conserve energy on the defensive end by rotating Jrue Holiday and Derrick White onto the most dangerous Mavericks weapons. Offensively, Kristaps Porzingis, in particular, spaces the floor. Porzingis is a threat to the three-point line, in the low block and at the rim. His versatility opens up easier opportunities for Tatum and Brown depending on how the defence reacts in front of them.

Doncic will single-handedly win the Mavericks at least one game. Irving will more than likely produce a clutch moment to win another. But across a seven-game series that will rely on cohesion and consistency, the Tatum/Brown duo looks the most likely to come out on top in the end.

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