Jaylen Brown Is First Cal Product to Be Named NBA Finals MVP

Brown deserved the award despite Jayson Tatum's slightly better statistics because Brown was more responsible for the two close wins
Jaylen Brown holds the NBA Finals MVP trophy
Jaylen Brown holds the NBA Finals MVP trophy / Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports

Jaylen Brown became the first former Cal player in history to win the NBA Finals Most Valuable Player award when he was named the finals MVP following the Boston Celtics’ clinching 106-88, Game 5 victory over the Dallas Mavericks Monday night in Boston.

There will be those who believe Jayson Tatum should have been given the award, but the correct choice was made. And it’s not just because this is a site that reports on Cal sports.

A quick look at the comparative statistics between Tatum and Brown over the five games of the finals give Tatum a slight edge.  Tatum averaged 22.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 7.2 assists, while Brown averaged 20.8 points, 5.4 rebounds and 5.0 assists.

However, two factors set Brown apart.

First is the shooting percentage. Brown shot 44.0 percent from the field in the series and shot better than 50 percent in three of the five games.  Tatum shot 38 percent over the five games and shot under 46 percent in all five games.

The second factor is the more important one.  Only two games were close.  Boston won easily in Game 1 and Game 5 and got blown out in Game 4. No particular Celtics player should get credit for being the difference in any of those games. The key games were Game 2 and Game 3, two close contests that Boston won, and two results that enabled the Celtics to become NBA champions.

Brown was the difference in those two games. 

In the Celtics’ seven-point win in Game 2, Tatum had 18 points on 27.3 percent shooting, while Brown had 21 points on 53.3 percent shooting and made the game-clinching bucket in the final minute.

In Game 3, which the Celtics won by seven points, virtually clinching the series, Tatum scored 31 points while shooting 42.3 percent and added six rebounds and five assists.  But anyone who watched that game came away thinking Brown was the star of that Boston victory.  He finished with 30 points, eight rebounds and eight assists while shooting 54.3 percent from the floor. And he made the two biggest buckets of the game – a follow shot with 3:08 left after Dallas had cut the Boston lead to one point, and a 20-foot jumper under pressure with 1:01 remaining to stretch a two-point Boston lead to four points, virtually sealing the championship.

Brown was also named the MVP of the Eastern Conference finals, making it a productive postseason for him after failing to make the all-NBA first team, the all-NBA second team or the all-NBA third team.

Brown played just one season at Cal, but he helped the Bears to a 23-11 record and an NCAA tournament berth in 2015-16. And no other Cal product had won the NBA Finals MVP until Monday night.

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Jake Curtis


Jake Curtis worked in the San Francisco Chronicle sports department for 27 years, covering virtually every sport, including numerous Final Fours, several college football national championship games, an NBA Finals, world championship boxing matches and a World Cup. He was a Cal beat writer for many of those years, and won awards for his feature stories.