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Celtics' Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown face biggest game of careers with chance to reach NBA Finals | Opinion

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MIAMI — Style points are worthless in the NBA playoffs.

Win pretty, win ugly. All that matter is the W.

Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and the Boston Celtics withstood a poor first half, powered through in the second half second and emerged with a 93-80 victory in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals on Wednesday.

With a 3-2 series lead, the Celtics are in their best position to return to the NBA Finals for the first time since 2010.

"We talked about it. We just went into Milwaukee and won a very big Game 6. So, know that it's possible," Tatum said, referencing last round when the Celtics won at Milwaukee, then at home in Game 7. "Like we came with the mindset tonight that it was a must-win game, that we need to carry that over, go into Friday like we're down 3-2."

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Though it hasn’t always been pretty against a rugged Miami Heat team that knows how to make basketball difficult for the opponent, Tatum and Brown are too much.

Who knows how this series would look if both teams, especially the Heat, were more healthy. Tyler Herro missed his second consecutive game, two of the Heat’s best players — Jimmy Butler and Kyle Lowry — are not 100% and Miami can’t muster enough offense.

Boston’s two best players — Tatum and Brown — might not be 100%, but they are healthy enough.

After a rough first half for both players Wednesday — a combined 3-or-16 with six turnovers — Brown had 19 points in the second half, 13 in the third quarter. Tatum had 18 in the second half.

Tatum finished with 22 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists, and Brown had a game-high 25 points.

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"J.T. and J.B. got it going, both those guys," Celtics coach Ime Udoka said. "It was simply, like I said, taking care of the basketball, the emphasis of this whole series, and limit them to one shot. ... As I always say, we rely on the defensive end (and) know our offense will pick up eventually. When we get the stops to get out and run, we're kind of a lethal team on both ends."

Brown and Tatum now face the biggest game of their careers. For young players (Brown is 25, Tatum 24), they have considerable playoff experience. This is Brown’s fourth conference finals appearance in his six seasons and Tatum’s third in five seasons.

"Definitely having experience and learning from it is an advantage," Brown said.

They have been close to a Finals appearance. In 2018, Boston had a 3-2 series lead against Cleveland and LeBron James, only to drop the final two games of the series. The Heat outlasted the Celtics in six games in the bubble in the 2020 conference finals.

"I'm a lot better, J.B. is. We're just older," Tatum said. "And we've been through those tough times."

From the outside, Tatum and Brown are low-maintenance players. Tatum is an emerging superstar, and on Tuesday, he was named to the All-NBA first-team for the first time in his career. Brown is a one-time All-Star on the verge of being a regular in the event. For a player who scores 23.6 points per game, he is unheralded.

Maybe that’s why the partnership works even through bouts of inconsistency.

"My teammate for five years," Tatum said. "Watched a lot of film together. Talk a lot throughout the game. I knew that he had it going. Kind of bringing the ball up, things like that, trying to find him, find the hot hand, for him to score, make the right play. That's just something we've gotten so much better at over the course of these last five years."

Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are one win away from their first trip to the NBA Finals.
Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are one win away from their first trip to the NBA Finals.

Said Brown: "We're always talking to each other, encouraging each other. We know what we’re capable of. Sometimes it's more so mental, trying to get over the adversity or sometimes we’re overthinking a little bit too much.

"We just got to come out and play basketball. We feel like there's not a lot of people who can play basketball with us two. When he gets going, when I get going, we know that we're going to put ourselves in a good spot to win."

The TD Garden will be rocking on Friday. Brown and Tatum have put the Celtics in a good spot to win a conference championship.

There’s a fine line between embracing the magnitude of the moment and not getting overwhelmed by it.

"This is a big game for us," Brown said. "At the same time, you know, just breathe, relax. Sometimes it can be a little bit too tense. We know how important these moments are. But just come out and play our game and we'll be fine."

Follow Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter @JeffZIllgitt.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Celtics' Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown on cusp of reaching NBA Finals