Celtics stars Tatum, Brown feel better equipped to tackle finals


Boston — For almost the entirety of their time together in Boston, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown have been linked.

They were drafted by the Celtics third overall in back-to-back years.

They possess similar skillsets – two explosive and skilled wing players with an ability to score from nearly every spot on the court.

And they both have been central to the success of a Celtics team that has reached the NBA Finals for the second time in three seasons. It helped Brown earn the NBA’s first $300 million contract last summer. And, Tatum is expected to get one this offseason.

The team has branded the All-Stars as “The Jays” in a marketing campaign shown during games that pitted them against one another in mini competitions.

It has created natural comparisons between them along the way, fostering an atmosphere in which fans and sports pundits alike have tried to parse out which one of them is better, whose spot is most untouchable on the roster and which of them is more pivotal to the Celtics’ success as they prepare to lead the team to the franchise’s 18th NBA title.

It reached a new level last week during a segment on ESPN’s “Get Up” in which panelists debated whether the 26-year-old Tatum expressed excitement or disappointment while watching the 27-year-old Brown garner Eastern Conference finals MVP honors.

“I think it’s unfair to both of them,” Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla said of what he viewed as an attempt to manufacture friction between the two stars.

But even as Tatum and Brown have distinguished themselves as the most important players on Boston’s roster and the keys to the Celtics’ fate in their NBA Finals matchup with the Dallas Mavericks, Mazzulla has hope that people will start viewing them differently.

“They’re, like, two completely different people. They’re two completely different players,” Mazzulla said. “They’re great teammates, they love each other and they go about winning and they go about their process in a different way. Why they have to always be lumped together I think is unfair.”

Tatum and Brown, along with Al Horford, are the only returning starters from the 2021-22 team that lost to the Golden State Warriors in six games in the Finals after holding a 2-1 series lead.

While Horford has taken on mostly a reserve role this season, backing up 7-footer Kristaps Porzingis, Tatum and Brown have taken their play up a notch.

Tatum’s scoring numbers have remained steady from the regular season (26.9 per game) into the playoffs (26.0), while his rebounding has increased from 8.1 to 10.4 per game in the postseason. Brown, too, has seen jumps in those categories, going from 23.0 points and 5.5 rebounds per game to 25.0 points and 6.1 rebounds in the playoffs.

Tatum believes they’ve both used lessons from the 2022 NBA Finals’ loss, as well as last year’s conference finals loss to Miami, to grow into players more equipped to accomplish their championship goal this time around.

“Obviously, we’ve been there before, we came up short,” Tatum said. “You don’t always get a second chance, so really just looking at it as a second chance and trying to simplify things as much as we can.”

And being each other’s biggest cheerleaders, too.

After Brown made a game-tying 3-pointer late in Game 1 of the conference finals matchup with Indiana to send the game to overtime in an eventual Celtics’ victory, the highest praise came from Tatum.

“Big time players make big time plays,” Tatum said of Brown.

For Brown, this season has been about focusing on the expectations he has for himself and not worrying about others’ perception of him.

Initially, when he was asked about not being included on either the All-NBA or All-Defensive teams, he shrugged it off, saying his attention was focused on getting back to the NBA Finals.

After he was named conference finals MVP, he acknowledged it did offer at least some motivation, particularly on the defensive side of the ball which he said he put most of his work into this past offseason.

“As time has gone by and I got to this point, I stopped caring,” Brown said. “I don’t care who sees what, as long as my city knows my value, my team knows my value, my family – that’s all I really care about.”

Mazzulla believes the reason the relationship between Brown and Tatum is so often talked about is rooted in outside disbelief that their dynamic doesn’t breed any rivalry between them.

“At the end of the day, like, those two guys, their relationship is their relationship,” Mazzulla said. “They love each other. They push each other every single day in practice. They communicate with each other, but they go about it differently. And, I think they both get it unfair being compared to each other. They’re different. And we see other duos around the league don’t have to go through that. … It’s because they’ve been so successful their entire careers, they’ve been able to for so long stay in success at a high level.”

Irving front and center in run to finals

Dallas — Kyrie Irving directed obscene gestures and profanity at a hostile crowd in Boston the last time the star Dallas guard saw the Celtics, one of his former teams, in the playoffs two years ago.

It was one tumultuous moment of many in a tension-filled tenure with Brooklyn that ended with his trade to the Mavericks about 10 months later.

Healthier and happier, as he likes to say, Irving is back on the biggest stage in his sport with the Mavs set to face the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals starting Thursday night.

Throughout the deepest playoff run for Dallas in 13 years, the reflective side of Irving has surfaced frequently, stopping short of mea culpas but making clear he’s learned a lot along the way.

“I will say last time in Boston, I don’t think that was the best – not this regular season, but when we played in the playoffs and everyone saw me flip off the birds and kind of lose my (stuff) a little bit – that wasn’t a great reflection of who I am and how I like to compete on a high level,” Irving said.

“It wasn’t a great reflection on my end towards the next generation on what it means to control your emotions in that type of environment, no matter what people are yelling at you.”

Before jilting Boston fans by signing with the Nets and joining Kevin Durant in free agency in 2019, Irving was already a polarizing player.

Then came the COVID-19 pandemic and Irving’s refusal to get vaccinated, which meant he couldn’t play home games for Brooklyn because of New York City’s vaccine mandate for employees.

Next was Irving’s social media post of a link to a movie containing antisemitic material, which led to a suspension from the Nets and the end of his longtime business relationship with Nike.

Ultimately, Irving asked out of Brooklyn, and he and Durant were traded days apart last year, giving Irving a new co-star in Mavs point guard Luka Doncic.

The former No. 1 overall pick out of Duke had never been anywhere near Texas in his career but was greeted by two familiar faces. Mavs general manager Nico Harrison used to work for Nike, and coach Jason Kidd was the point guard of the then-New Jersey Nets when Irving was growing up in that area.

Irving caught up with the team in Los Angeles after the trade, and the Mavericks won their first two games with him.

“You could see the smile,” Kidd said. “You could see the relief, or you could see that he was ready to have fun and play the game that he loves.”

The partial season together didn’t work out for Irving and Doncic. Dallas missed the playoffs. The first full season together was what the Mavs expected when they pulled off Harrison’s first blockbuster trade.

A late-season surge lifted the Mavs to fifth in the West, although they’ve been the lower seed throughout these playoffs.

Dallas beat the Los Angeles Clippers in six games in the first round, ousting Tyronn Lue, Irving’s coach from his championship season alongside LeBron James in Cleveland in 2016.

“He’s very, very patient,” Lue said after that series of the difference between the Irving he coached and today’s version. “You couldn’t get this Kyrie when I had him. He wants to kill you every moment, every second. But now you can see, he’s just letting the game come to him.”

The Mavs beat top-seeded Oklahoma City in six games before knocking out No. 3 Minnesota in five games in the Western Conference finals, the clincher giving Dallas a five-game road winning streak in the playoffs.

“I feel like it’s a great chapter that’s being written right now,” Irving said. “I’m enjoying every step of the way. I’m not taking anything for granted. I’m enjoying the hot weather right now. I’m enjoying the Dallas community. We talked about this early in the season, just how much I felt embraced.”

Irving went on to say it went deeper than that, reminding reporters of an entire career spent in the other conference.

“Seasonal depression is real when you’re growing up in the north,” Irving said. “I spent 12 years in the Eastern Conference in three cold cities that deal with four seasons. So you come out here and you’re able to get outside and ground yourself a little bit more and spend some time with your family. Watch your kids run outside.”

Irving and Doncic have at least another season together. Irving has a player option for 2025-26, Doncic for the season after that.

Kidd believes a preseason trip to Madrid, where Doncic grew as a teenaged pro in the EuroLeague, helped the two superstars bond.

Now, winning is cementing that bond, one of the most poignant moments for the pair coming in the final seconds of Game 3 against the Timberwolves, after the Mavs knew they had clinched a 3-0 lead.

“When we were winning by nine on that last possession, I told (Irving), ‘I’m tired,’ and he told me, ‘That’s the way it’s supposed to be,’” Doncic said. “He brought the calmness to the team and to me. He brought the maturity. I’m learning from him every day.”

NBA betting scandal yields a criminal case

A New York man was charged Tuesday in a sports betting scandal that spurred the NBA to ban Jontay Porter for life, with the charges marking the first known criminal fallout from the matter.

Porter is not named in the court complaint, but its specifics about “Player 1” match the details of the former Toronto Raptors player’s downfall this spring. Brooklyn federal prosecutors declined to comment on whether Porter is under investigation.

But Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Breon Peace said the alleged co-conspirators and “Player 1” participated “in a brazen, illegal betting scheme that had a corrupting influence on two games and numerous bets.”

“Whether on the court or in the casino, every point matters,” Peace said in a statement.

The complaint says the player communicated directly with defendant Long Phi Pham and alleged co-defendants whose names are redacted.

After the NBA and others began investigating this spring, the player warned Pham and others via an encrypted messaging app April 4 that they “might just get hit w a rico” – an apparent reference to the common acronym for a federal racketeering charge – and asked whether they had deleted “all the stuff” from their phones, according to the complaint.

Current contact information for Porter could not immediately be found.

According to the complaint, the player owed “significant gambling debts” to at least one of the alleged conspirators and was encouraged to settle them by doing a “special” – strategically bowing out of games so that wagers could pay off for those in the know, who could bet on him underperforming expectations.

“If I don’t do a special with your terms. Then it’s up. And u hate me and if I don’t get u 8k by Friday you’re coming to Toronto to beat me up,” the player said in an encrypted message early this year, according to the complaint.

It says the player went on to tell Pham and another defendant that he planned to take himself out of a Jan. 26 game early, claiming injury. He had reported hurting an eye in another game four days earlier but was not on the injured list.

Porter played 4 minutes and 24 seconds against the Los Angeles Clippers in that game before saying he had aggravated the eye problem, exiting with no points, 3 rebounds and 1 assist – well below what sportsbooks were expecting, creating a payday for anyone who bet the “under.” One alleged conspirator netted $33,250, and another’s relative garnered $75,000, according to the complaint.

Nearly two months later, it said, the player told Pham and at least one other alleged conspirator that he would claim illness to exit a March 20 game – and they agreed he would get nearly a quarter of the wagering wins.

Porter played 2 minutes and 43 seconds against the Sacramento Kings that day, finishing with no points or assists and 2 rebounds, again short of the betting line.

Some defendants made a combined total of more than $1 million on their “under” bets, but one of them was blocked from pocketing most winnings after a betting company got suspicious, the complaint says.

A message seeking comment was left for Pham’s lawyer. Pham, 38, of Brooklyn, was being detained after an initial court appearance Tuesday. Accused of conspiring to defraud a sports betting company, he is due back in court Wednesday for a bail hearing.

The NBA banned Porter in April, after a league probe found that he disclosed confidential information about his health to a sports bettor and that he used someone else’s account to bet on games in which he didn’t play. In one multi-game parlay, he unsuccessfully bet against his own team, according to the NBA.

“There is nothing more important than protecting the integrity of NBA competition for our fans, our teams and everyone associated with our sport, which is why Jontay Porter’s blatant violations of our gaming rules are being met with the most severe punishment,” league Commissioner Adam Silver said at the time in a news release, portions of which are quoted in the complaint.

The league said it was sharing its findings with federal prosecutors.

Messages seeking comment were left Tuesday for the NBA and the Raptors.

Porter’s salary for this year was around $410,000. The 24-year-old averaged 4.4 points, 3.2 rebounds and 2.3 assists in 26 games this season, including five starts. He also played in 11 games for the Memphis Grizzlies in the 2020-21 season.

Cavs to interview Nuggets assistant Adelman

With their list of coaching candidates growing, the Cleveland Cavaliers received permission Tuesday to interview Denver assistant David Adelman, a person familiar with the team’s search told The Associated Press.

Adelman, the son of longtime NBA coach Rick Adelman, is the sixth known candidate contacted by the Cavs.

Cleveland could further expand its search in the coming days, said the person who spoke on condition of anonymity because the team is not commenting while looking for J.B. Bickerstaff’s successor.

ESPN was first to report Cleveland’s connection with Adelman.

The Cavs fired Bickerstaff last month after they were eliminated in the second round of the playoffs by Boston. Bickerstaff’s teams improved each year and this season he was saddled with numerous injuries.

The 43-year-old Adelman is coach Michael Malone’s top assistant with the Nuggets, who won the title last season. He’s also worked with Minnesota (five years) and Orlando (one year) before joining Denver in 2017.

Adelman also interviewed with the Los Angeles Lakers for their vacancy.

It’s not yet known if the Cavs have formally interviewed any of the candidates they’ve contacted so far.

Cavs president of basketball operations Koby Altman stressed he and his staff will be diligent in finding the next coach. The team believes it’s close to contending for a title.

Cleveland has already gotten permission to speak with Golden State’s Kenny Atkinson, New Orleans assistant James Borrego, New York Knicks assistant Johnnie Bryant, Miami assistant Chris Quinn and Timberwolves assistant Micah Nori.

Bickerstaff guided the Cavs back to the playoffs last year – All-Star guard Donovan Mitchell’s arrival in a trade helped – for the first time since 2018, but a first-round flameout against the Knicks raised questions about his future.

Still, the Cavs were among the East’s top teams this season amid injuries to Mitchell, guard Darius Garland and forward Evan Mobley. Cleveland then lost center Jarrett Allen in the playoffs with a broken rib.

Bickerstaff said in an interview that he has no regrets about his four-plus seasons with Cleveland.

“I’m sure every organization, from where we started, would sign up for what we were able to accomplish. Individual players got better, the team got better,” Bickerstaff told SiriusXM. “We created a culture, we created an environment of winning and held ourselves to a high standard. So I’m proud of what we did.

“I know a lot of people around the league who were looking in.”

NBA Finals

Boston vs. Dallas

▶ Game 1: Thursday, June 6 @ Boston, 8:30

▶ Game 2: Sunday, June 9 @ Boston, 8

▶ Game 3: Wednesday, June 12 @ Dallas, 8:30

▶ Game 4: June 14 @ Dallas, 8:30

▶ Game 5: June 17 @ Boston, 830

▶ Game 6: June 20 @ Dallas, 8:30

▶ Game 7: June 23 @ Boston, 8

Eastern Conference

Third round

Boston vs. Indiana

(Celtics win 4-0)

▶ Game 1: Boston 133-128 (OT)

▶ Game 2: Boston 126-110

▶ Game 3: Boston 114-111

▶ Game 4: Boston 105-102

Western Conference

Third round

Dallas vs. Minnesota

(Dallas leads 3-1)

▶ Game 1: Dallas 108-105

▶ Game 2: Dallas 109-108

▶ Game 3: Dallas 116-107

▶ Game 4: Minnesota 105-100

▶ Game 5: Thursday, May 30 @ Minnesota, 8:30

▶ Game 6: Saturday, June 1 @ Dallas, TBA

▶ Game 7: Monday, June 3 @ Minnesota, TBA

Eastern Conference

Second round

Indiana vs. New York

(Indiana wins 4-3)

▶ Game 1: New York 121-117

▶ Game 2: New York 130-121

▶ Game 3: Indiana 116-101

▶ Game 4: Indiana 121-89

▶ Game 5: New York 121-91

▶ Game 6: Indiana 116-103

▶ Game 7: Indiana 130-109

Boston vs. Cleveland

(Celtics win 4-1)

▶ Game 1: Boston 120-95

▶ Game 2: Cleveland 118-94

▶ Game 3: Boston 106-93

▶ Game 4: Boston 109-102

▶ Game 5: Boston 113-98

Western Conference

Denver vs. Minnesota

(Minnesota wins 4-3)

▶ Game 1: Minnesota 106-99

▶ Game 2: Minnesota 106-90

▶ Game 3: Denver 117-90

▶ Game 4: Denver 115-107

▶ Game 5: Denver 112-97

▶ Game 6: Minnesota 115-70

▶ Game 7: Minnesota 98-90

Oklahoma City vs. Dallas

(Dallas wins 4-3)

▶ Game 1: Oklahoma City 117-95

▶ Game 2: Dallas 119-110

▶ Game 3: Dallas 105-101

▶ Game 4: Oklahoma City 100-96

▶ Game 5: Dallas 104-92

▶ Game 6: Oklahoma City 100-96

▶ Game 7: Dallas 117-116

Eastern Conference

First round

Milwaukee vs. Indiana

(Indiana wins 4-2)

▶ Game 1: Milwaukee 109-94

▶ Game 2: Indiana 125-108

▶ Game 3: Indiana 121-118 (OT)

▶ Game 4: Indiana 126-113

▶ Game 5: Milwaukee 115-92

▶ Game 6: Indiana 120-98

Boston vs. Miami

(Celtics win 4-1)

▶ Game 1: Boston 114, Miami 94

▶ Game 2: Miami 111, Boston 101

▶ Game 3: Boston 104, Miami 84

▶ Game 4: Boston 102, Miami 88

▶ Game 5: Boston 118-84

Cleveland vs. Orlando

(Cavaliers win 4-3)

▶ Game 1: Cleveland 97, Orlando 83

▶ Game 2: Cleveland 96, Orlando 86

▶ Game 3: Orlando 121, Cleveland 83

▶ Game 4: Orlando 112, Cleveland 89

▶ Game 5: Cleveland 104, Orlando 103

▶ Game 6: Orlando 103, Cleveland 96

▶ Game 7: Cleveland 106-94

New York vs. Philadelphia

(Knicks win 4-2)

▶ Game 1: New York 111-104

▶ Game 2: New York 104-101

▶ Game 3: Philadelphia 125-114

▶ Game 4: New York 97-92

▶ Game 5: Philadelphia 112-106

▶ Game 6: New York 118-115

Western Conference

L.A. Clippers vs. Dallas

(Mavericks win 4-2)

▶ Game 1: L.A. Clippers 109-97

▶ Game 2: Dallas 96-93

▶ Game 3: Dallas 101-90

▶ Game 4: L.A. Clippers 116-111

▶ Game 5: Dallas 123-93

▶ Game 6: Dallas 114, L.A. Clippers 101

▶ Game 7: Sunday @ L.A. Clippers, TBA

Denver vs. L.A. Lakers

(Nuggets win 4-1)

▶ Game 1: Denver 114-103

▶ Game 2: Denver 101-99

▶ Game 3: Denver 112-105

▶ Game 4: L.A. Lakers 119-108

▶ Game 5: Denver 108-106

Oklahoma City vs. New Orleans

(Thunder wins 4-0)

▶ Game 1: Oklahoma City 94-92

▶ Game 2: Oklahoma City 124-92

▶ Game 3: Oklahoma City 106-85

▶ Game 4: Oklahomas City 97-89

Minnesota vs. Phoenix

(Timberwolves win 4-0)

▶ Game 1: Minnesota 120-95

▶ Game 2: Minnesota 105-93

▶ Game 3: Minnesota 126-109

▶ Game 4: Minnesota 122-116