Brown doesn’t hear those chants but perhaps he should occasionally, such as Wednesday, when he scored 41 points to lead Boston to a 125-114 win over the Pelicans.
Tatum added 31 points and 10 rebounds, but he wasn’t particularly stellar, a testament to how well he’s played. Brown carried the Celtics in the second half, helping fight off the shorthanded but pesky Pelicans with 36 points through three quarters, and Tatum finished them off with 14 in the fourth.
Brown and Tatum became the first Celtics duo with 30-point, 10-rebound games since Antoine Walker and Paul Pierce accomplished that feat March 7, 2001 against the Bucks.
They are becoming the most dominant duo in the NBA in their fifth year playing together. And it’s encouraging the Celtics don’t need an “A” game Tatum on a nightly basis to win. Not when Brown is playing the best basketball of his seven-year career.
After Wednesday, Brown is 12th in the NBA in scoring at 27.2 points per game on a 49.8 percent shooting clip. He has become more efficient and confident attacking the rim. And he’s making a serious bid at his second All-Star appearance.
What makes the Celtics one of the elite teams in the league is the ability for Tatum or Brown to carry the team with Malcolm Brogdon, Al Horford, or Marcus Smart as reliable third scorers.
And what has turned the Celtics into a title contender the past two years is the fusion between Tatum and Brown.
“They’ve learned how to play very well together,” Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla said. “I think we’ve all been for lack of a better term humbled by what we’ve gone through in the NBA since we’ve been together, the ups and downs and the playoff wins and the playoff losses. When you get to the point in your career when you know you need each other and you need your teammates, it’s a very powerful thing and I think those guys know that.
“I think they do a great job of doing both, of being great players and also knowing that they need each other and their teammates.”
About a year ago, there were serious questions of whether the duo could play together. They were slumping as a team, slow to adapt to coach Ime Udoka’s system. They were considered too much alike, playing the same position, unable to coexist.
They had plenty of heart-to-heart conversations about their place in this franchise and how they could make it work together. The questions about their chemistry have been replaced by suggestions they are the most dynamic tandem in the NBA.
“I think we have [talked about our place] in the past but not so much this year,” Brown said. “We came into this season with an understanding that we’re trying to get back to where we were last year. We didn’t talk about any of that other stuff. The only thing we were focused on was that loss in the Finals. That is at the forefront for us now and the forefront for us then.
“As you can see he’s taken his game to another level and our team is still in first place. We still have a lot of good basketball ahead of us to play.”
While Tatum and Brown can focus on the future, it’s important to note how crucial it was and is for the success of the franchise that they are close. There is a healthy competition but they admire each other’s skills and approach.
For the Celtics to succeed, both have to succeed, and they need each other to reach that ultimate goal. For years, Brown and Tatum have watched as former Celtics have returned to Boston and received adulation, standing ovations, and retired jerseys because they became champions here. The significance of those honors is not lost on them.
They want their jerseys retired. They want standing ovations. They want to never have to buy a beer in this town again. Tatum had just turned 3 years old when Pierce and Walker accomplished that 30-10 feat, and Brown was 4. So they are making history in front of our eyes, but the journey is far from complete. So there is nothing else for them to discuss until it is.
“I don’t think this is the best you will see,” Brown said. “I definitely think we’ve got other limits to reach in the future in our career. This is part of the process right now. I’m interested to see how he continues to grow, how I continue to grow over the years. But right now, we’ve got to focus on what’s in front of us and that’s taking care of business and getting back to the Finals.”
Gary Washburn is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GwashburnGlobe.
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