Celtics Present United Front Against Jason Kidd’s Mind Games

Boston’s players said all the right things after the Mavericks coach tried to drive a wedge between Celtics stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.
Jayson Tatum, left, made the All-NBA First Team this season while Jaylen Brown narrowly missed making the third team.
Jayson Tatum, left, made the All-NBA First Team this season while Jaylen Brown narrowly missed making the third team. / David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

BOSTON – Jason Kidd made 10 All-Star teams during his NBA career, earning his place among the great playmakers with size, skill and, yes, smarts. Kidd saw the game better than most, still does. On Saturday, as Kidd’s media availability was wrapping up, he was asked a a boilerplate question about Jaylen Brown’s game. 

“Well, Jaylen,” Kidd said, “is their best player.” 

Boom, there’s your story. Kidd knew what he was doing with that answer. Of course he did. Few dynamics are more closely scrutinized than Brown and Jayson Tatum. Just last week, ESPN Zapruder-filmed a video of Tatum applauding Brown’s conference finals MVP win—not hard enough for their liking—to wonder if there was an issue. Brown is routinely measured against Tatum, two All-NBA wings, teammates, forever in competition. Kidd’s comment was less praise for Brown than a chance to toss a grenade into Boston’s locker room. 

“J-Kidd, man,” said Celtics center Al Horford, laughing. “I see what he is doing.”

Indeed, everyone does. And why not? If there was anything learned from Boston’s 107–89 shellacking of the Mavericks in Game 1, it’s that in this series, Dallas is outgunned. Luka Doncic got 30 but he needed 26 shots to get there, while the Celtics’ ability to defend him straight up held Doncic to a single assist. Gone were the lobs, the corner threes that powered the Mavs through a rugged Western Conference. Instead, it was congested drives and contested jumpers while Dallas struggled to get anything past the 7’2” Kristaps Porzingis waiting for them at the rim. 

“I thought we were too much one-on-one,” said Kidd. “We've got to move bodies. We've got to move the ball. Multiple guys have to touch the ball. We were just too stagnant, and that's not the way we play. We've got to be better.”

Kyrie Irving will be better because, for Irving, it couldn’t go much worse. Irving scored 12 points on Thursday, connecting on 31.6% of his shots and missing all five of his threes. Much was made of how the Boston crowd would respond to Irving on Thursday, and while there were the obligatory chants, all things considered the reaction was relatively tame. “I thought it would be louder,” Irving said. Many of Irving’s misses were off open looks and Dallas is confident if he gets the same looks in Game 2, those shots will go down. 

“I mean it was our first time being together as a group in this Finals stage,” said Irving. “Experience is the best teacher at times when you don't know what to expect.”

Even if Irving is better, Dallas needs more. More from Dereck Lively II, the springy rookie who got off one shot in 18 minutes. More from Derrick Jones Jr., who finished 2-for-9 from the floor. More from Josh Green, who was 1-for-4. The Mavs committed 11 turnovers in Game 1, which led to 18 Celtics points. 

“We've got to take care of the ball,” Kidd said. “We've got to make it easier for Ky and Luka. Being able to put those guys in different spots on the floor so there's a little bit stress-free so they can do what they do at a high level. We just didn't do that in Game 1.”

Mavericks coach Jason Kidd at a press conference
Kidd’s press conference tactic doesn’t appear to have had its desired effect. / Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Kidd created a firestorm with his lofty praise of Brown but inside Boston’s locker room, it isn’t going anywhere. For years the dynamic between the two has been scrutinized, and all it has done is make the bond between them stronger. They are very different people, Tatum and Brown, but they share the same goal. Six conference finals, two NBA Finals and all that matters now is that they don’t leave this one empty handed. 

“This is a team sport, right?” Tatum said. “We understand that. We wouldn't be here if we didn't have JB on our team, and we can say that for a lot of guys. We have all played a part in getting to where we're at. We understand that people try to drive a wedge between us. I guess it's a smart thing to do or try to do. We've been in this position for many of years of guys trying to divide us and say that one of us should be traded or one is better than the other. So it's not our first time at the rodeo.”

Said Brown, “We've been just extremely focused on what our roles and our jobs are. We have all had to sacrifice. Jason [Kidd] has had to do that at the highest of levels and I respect him and tip his cap for it. Right now, at this point, it's whatever it takes to win and we can't let any outside interpretations try to get in between.”

Dallas wants Tatum to feel slighted, to overcompensate, try too hard to assert himself in Game 2. Not happening, Tatum says. Tatum wants to score but if the Mavs tilt its defense towards Tatum again, if they continue to load up, Tatum will keep the ball moving. He collected five assists in Game 1 and if more shots had fallen, he could have racked up several more. 

“It's just about reading the game,” Tatum said. “Draw so much attention, you know, when I have the ball in my hands. It's about creating an advantage. We always talk about that, watching film, creating advantage, finding the mismatch that we want, and it might not always end up in the shot for you. Or if you set a screen and get a smaller guy on you, just having that mismatch and calling for the ball, right, it may draw other defenders to help, and we can pin in for somebody else to get a shot. Those things won't show up in the stats sheet, but it's part of our execution, and sometimes you have to make a sacrificial cut or things like that to generate good shoots.”

Even after years of success as teammates, after All-Stars and All-NBA teams, 50-win seasons and deep playoff runs, questions about Tatum and Brown’s relationship still linger. Only one thing will kill them off. On Sunday, Boston will look to move one win closer to doing so. 


Published
Chris Mannix

CHRIS MANNIX

Senior Writer, Sports Illustrated Sports Illustrated senior writer Chris Mannix has boxed with Juan Manuel Marquez, played guard in the NBA's D-League and even tried his hand at bull riding at the Sankey Rodeo School in Martin, Tenn. The latter assignment left him with a bunch of bruises and a fractured collarbone. "I liked all the first-person experiences, but fighting Juan was my favorite assignment for SI," says Mannix. "It was a tremendous experience that required brutal training and introduced me to a fear I never knew I had." Mannix has covered the NBA since he arrived at SI in 2003. He currently writes columns and profiles in the magazine and for SI.com and also serves as SI's NBA draft expert. Among the NBA stars he has profiled: Chris Bosh, Russell Westbrook and Andrei Kirilenko. As a teenager Mannix was a locker room attendant with the Boston Celtics for eight seasons (1995-2003) and covered high school sports for the Boston Globe. "Working for the Celtics was like attending a different fantasy camp every game. I spent pregames D'ing up the likes of Tracy McGrady, Ray Allen and yes, Michael Jordan. Last time I went one-on-one with MJ he beat me 48-0. I got one shot off … and it was blocked." Boxing is also one of Mannix's specialties. He has reported for SI on several championship fights, annually hands out SI.com's boxing awards and writes the website's "Inside Boxing" column. Mannix won the 2012 Boxing Writers Association of America's awards for Best Feature over 1,750 words and Best Feature under 1,750 words. In addition to his duties at SI, Mannix serves as host of The Chris Mannix Show on NBC Sports Radio (Sundays 6–9 p.m. ET) and is a co-host of Voices of the Game, with Newy Scruggs every Wednesday from Noon–3 p.m. ET. In addition, Mannix is a ringside reporter for Epix and Fight Night on NBC and NBC Sports Network, and is a regular guest and fill-in host on The Dan Patrick Show and The Crossover on NBC Sports Network. He also regularly appears on sports radio shows across the country, including weekly appearances in Miami, Orlando and Salt Lake City.  Mannix received a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Boston College in 2003 and graduated from Boston College High School in 1998 (which makes him a double Eagle). He resides in New York City.