Jason Tatum, Jaylen Brown and the reason for the defeat in the NBA Finals

BOSTON. Jason Tatum, as despondent as we’ve seen him in his nascent career, stormed out of the press room after his Boston Celtics’ NBA Finals loss to the Golden State Warriors and hugged his father.

“It hurts,” Tatum had just said to a crowd of reporters gathered in a corner of TD Garden as the smell of cigar smoke wafted from the nearby visitor locker room. “I feel like a lot of things could have been done better.”

After a lengthy discussion, the All-NBA First Team forward walked out of the arena in one direction and Justin Tatum walked out in another, stopping occasionally to greet the assembled friends and family, the Celtics staff and the media.

“We’ll be back,” the older Tatum said, radiating optimism instead of his son’s pain.

He answered the question everyone was worried about before anyone dared to ask it in the heat of defeat. Was this the only chance for these unexpected Celtics, or another battle scar on the way to the ultimate championship?

Jason Tatum turned 24 in March. Only a handful of superstars ever topped the championship teams before their 25th birthday, and all but Bill Walton were assisted by the Hall of Fame in their prime.

Larry Bird’s 1981 Celtics featured Tiny Archibald and Robert Parish in the All-Stars season, along with 23-year-old Kevin McHale coming off the bench. The Los Angeles Lakers played Magic Johnson in 1982 with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jamaal Wilkes, and Bob McAdoo, not to mention Norm Nixon, aged 26 to 34. Tim Duncan and Dwyane Wade, respectively, shared the spotlight with David Robinson and Shaquille O’Neal, who were 33 at the time with the 1999 San Antonio Spurs and 2006 Miami Heat. This is a list of players under 25 over the past 50 years.

None of them had come across Stephen Curry and the established dynasty. All have won at least three titles in five finals. Keep that in mind before considering this as a defining moment for the Celtics Tatum and Jaylen Brown.

“We went from a team under 0.500, an average team, to a merger,” said Al Horford, the only Celtic over 30. “I want us to keep an eye on how much Jason and Jaylen have grown this year. they have a lot of responsibility on their hands. They took it easy. They made adjustments. They got better. They have grown as players. The warriors were definitely on another level. This is something we must accept and we must all grow.”

Yes, but Bird, Magic, Wade and Duncan say.

Tatum’s idol, Kobe Bryant, won three under-24 titles as a running mate to peak at the end of the 20-year-old Shaq, and it took him another six years to reach the finals without him. LeBron James and Michael Jordan were 27 years old when they were first crowned. Curry and Giannis Antetokounmpo were 26 when they first won. Tatum and 25-year-old Brown are well ahead of schedule, even when compared to recent all-time greats.

If Tatum and Brown continue their careers in Boston, which at this rate should see them contending for MVP and All-NBA titles respectively for the foreseeable future, there is little reason to believe they won’t give themselves a shot at championship redemption in the coming years. years.

With the exception of 36-year-old Horford, Marcus Smart, at 28, is the oldest in a group that also includes Robert Williams III, Derrick White, Grant Williams and Payton Pritchard. All contracts are signed for at least the next two seasons. Now they’re in the final test, and this experience gives them all an idea of ​​the level to which everyone will have to raise their game to defeat an opponent of the caliber of the four-time Warriors champion.

“You always have an advantage if you are experienced,” said Robert Williams.

The league’s ever-changing landscape raises some doubts about their ability to develop collectively. Brown could become an unrestricted free agent in 2024, while Tatum has an option with a player in 2025. Any withdrawal would hurt Boston’s chances for a title, and this threat must make sure the ownership is investing in this listing. They have a mid-level taxpayer exemption, several trading exemptions, and future draft picks to support that core.

“They’re going crazy if they don’t keep these guys together,” Warriors forward Draymond Green said of the Celtics at the game. his podcast from TD Garden. “But it wouldn’t surprise me if we see this team win the championship in the near future when we’re done. They have it. They are not weak, they are not soft. They have scoring, they have defense, they have big players. If there is one thing they can improve, it is probably their depth. If you look at that episode, I feel like they just ran out of gas and that was for us.”

Jason Tatum and Jaylen Brown will begin their sixth season together with the Boston Celtics with NBA championship hopes.  (Maddy Meyer/Getty Images)

Jason Tatum and Jaylen Brown will begin their sixth season together with the Boston Celtics with NBA championship hopes. (Maddy Meyer/Getty Images)

That said, it took the Celtics seven games to survive both against Antetokounmpo’s Milwaukee Bucks, who were left without All-Star Chris Middleton, and against the Heat, who have the flexibility to improve their roster. Joel Embiid and Kevin Durant could also have their say over the next few years in the deep Eastern Conference.

In the west, the Warriors are preparing reinforcements. The Los Angeles Clippers and Denver Nuggets will be formidable opponents when they are healthy. The Phoenix Suns are contenders if they don’t flare up in light of the early exit. Luka Doncic’s Dallas Mavericks and Ja Morant’s Memphis Grizzlies loom as the teams of the future.

There are no guaranteed title shots, which is why it’s so hard for the Celtics to swallow some of the self-inflicted punishment. They led in Game 4 under five minutes to establish a 3-1 series lead. Game 5 was a one-point game early in the fourth quarter. They’ve made 56 losses in their last three games against Golden State, their first three-game losing streak in 2022. Call it inexperience or fatigue or whatever you want, but Boston didn’t live to see this point, and the agony from it will never abate.

“We did it for ourselves. We had opportunities to rise up and win,” Brown said. “At times we have shown our immaturity, and it stings. Still a young group. There’s still a lot to be learned. Nothing to worry about.”

It is how they use this torment that will ultimately decide the fate of their final future.

“We know what it’s like to get to this point,” Tatum said. “To get here and not achieve it, it’s hard. You don’t want to feel like that again, but you want to come back here… Yes, that will cheer us up.”

Don’t forget, Celtics coach Ime Udoka was the Spurs’ assistant when the Heat’s Ray Allen stole the title from them in Game 6 of the 2013 Finals, and San Antonio came back with a vengeance to beat Miami. later.

“I already lost once,” said Udoka. “It was part of the message. Let it push us forward, experience, growth and progress that we have made this season. Obviously reaching your ultimate goal and losing multiple games will be painful. there, very emotional right now… The biggest message was to learn from it, grow out of it, embrace the experience and see that there’s another level to go to.”

Tatum’s performance in the championship series was especially disappointing. Eastern Conference Finals MVP hit just 37% of field goals against the Warriors. His disappearance after the first quarter of the decisive 6th game will be of great importance. Is he slumped in the face of mounting pressure? Was the shoulder injury he suffered earlier in the playoffs worse than we thought? Did the historic number of minutes tire him?

None of these questions will matter if Tatum answers the way great players do. James used poor results in finals at ages 22 and 26 as motivation to win four championships in eight more matches over the next nine seasons. He is an extreme example and the Celtics will hope Tatum doesn’t run elsewhere for help.

“You are an All-Star, an NBA First Team member for a reason,” Udoka said. “This is just the beginning of how you will be guarded and the attention you are going to get. One thing he’s always done throughout the season is watch a few different reports and figure it out. He did this throughout the first season. several series. This one was difficult. A very consistent team that did some things to limit it and make others pay. For him, it’s just to continue to grow and understand that you will see this for the rest of your career.”

A cautionary tale for these Celtics is the 2012 Oklahoma City Thunder. They lost in the five-game final to James Heath and looked like the team of the future. Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden were all under 25. They traded Harden and still reached two more conference finals in four years, but a poor 3-1 streak to the Warriors in 2016 convinced Durant he couldn’t win a title with Westbrook.

Durant needed Golden State’s championship DNA to win two titles, showing the Warriors’ anomaly. Bringing them to six games, almost taking full control of the series, is no small feat for the Celtics. Of course, Gary Payton, Shawn Kemp, and upstart Seattle SuperSonics forced Game 6 in the 1996 Finals against Jordan’s Chicago Bulls dynasty, but were disbanded after a second-round encore.

For every ready-made line-up, there is one that returned without winning, and another that broke through. The Portland Trail Blazers of Clyde Drexler, the New York Knicks of Patrick Ewing, the Utah Jazz of Karl Malone and the New Jersey Nets of Jason Kidd lost for the second time. Julius Erving’s Philadelphia 76ers reached three Finals before adding Moses Malone to win in 1983. Isaiah Thomas’s Detroit Pistons lost Game 7 to the Magic Lakers in 1988, only to win the next two games in the Finals. Hakeem Olajuwon made the 1986 Finals at age 23, and it took the Houston Rockets another eight years to finally build a title team around him. 27-year-old Dallas Mavericks Dirk Nowitzki lost the 2006 Finals and made a triumphant comeback five years later.

You must feel the pattern. Are Tatum and Brown the equivalent of Payton and Kemp or Drexler and Terry Porter – good but not good enough? Or one or both can turn into an unbeatable one? Kobe, Dirk, LeBron, Kawhi, Steph and Giannis have won the last 14 titles, often with the help of other members of the NBA 75th Anniversary Team. With the exception of the 2004 Pistons, who were little different from the defensive-oriented Bostons, each champion represented one of the top 30 players of all time for four consecutive decades.

“There are levels,” Udoka said. “You can see the difference in Golden State, a team that has been together for a long time. The main group, it’s been 10 years. We have seen what we can achieve. but the future is bright and we’re just getting started, so let’s all come back better.”

All this said, whether or not Tatum, Brown and these Celtics make it back to this stage is entirely up to them.

With that knowledge, Tatum took the long walk through the Golden State celebrations still unfolding at his home court and entered the next phase of his career where nothing but greatness is enough.

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Ben Rohrbach is a staff writer for Yahoo Sports. Any advice? Email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter! Follow @brohrbach

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