Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are owning the moment for Boston

BOSTON -- Jaylen Brown sat brooding in the visitors locker room as a Boston Celtics trainer patched a small gash near his right temple, the result of an uncalled foul -- the NBA would later admit as much -- during a critical juncture of Boston's series-tying Game 4 loss Sunday to the Milwaukee Bucks.

Brown had turned in a career night, but it was what went into the official box score as a Khris Middleton block during the final minute that left Brown smarting. To make matters worse, now he had to go to a news conference, bandage on his head, and discuss it all.

Brown still had a bit of a scowl as he settled in behind the microphone. Despite wearing a "7uice" sweatshirt that incorporates his jersey number and "Juice" nickname, the 21-year-old was in no mood to talk about himself. He had posted a career-best 34 points and, with help from rookie Jayson Tatum, nearly willed Boston to victory after the Celtics overcame a 20-point deficit.

Brown sat with arms folded in his lap and offered tart responses to the five questions he fielded in a session that lasted a hair under two minutes. No reply was shorter than when Brown was asked about his own numbers that day.

"My teammates found me in open spots. I hit some shots," said Brown, who soon stood up, adjusted the fanny pack he's trying to will back into style and headed for the team bus.

The popular narrative as Brown and Tatum assert themselves on the playoff stage is how bright the more distant future is becoming for the Celtics. And it's absolutely fair to watch what these two are doing for injury-depleted Boston and wonder just how good this team can eventually be when it has a healthy Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward on the court next season.

But that overlooks what makes Brown and Tatum so special to begin with: They don't want to wait to be great.

Tatum was glaring in the direction of the Bucks bench when a euphoric Brown blindsided him and wrapped him in his arms. The 20-year-old rookie had just calmly drained a late-clock, midrange jumper over Middleton to put Boston out front in the final minute of Sunday's game, and, as the hosts called timeout, Tatum and Brown exulted near midcourt.

At the combined age of 41 -- the same as Celtics coach Brad Stevens -- these are not the sort of moments Brown and Tatum are supposed to be owning.

"That's the best part about [the playoffs]," Tatum said. "It brings something out of you. Just an extra ounce of competitiveness and intensity."

Brown played a supporting role a season ago when the Celtics made a run to the Eastern Conference finals. Knowing how hard it was to impact the game at both ends of the floor in his first year, Brown marvels at what Tatum is doing.

"Last year was kinda eye-opening for me," Brown said. "[Tatum is] ahead of the curve, I'll say that for sure. ... He's one hell of a rookie."

Tatum and Brown combined for 55 points overall during Sunday's game, becoming only the second tandem age 22 or younger in league history to accomplish that feat in the postseason, according to the Elias Sports Bureau research. They nearly bested the record of 56 points by former Oklahoma City Thunder duo Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook during the 2010 playoffs.

After a 21-year-old Durant's performance that 2010 night against the Lakers -- in his third season -- TNT analyst Kenny Smith wondered if Durant might one day be better than LeBron James. The suggestion was openly mocked by some of his colleagues, but, in hindsight, Smith was right about Durant being one of the league's best.

No one has made any such grand declarations about Brown or Tatum in the aftermath of Game 4, but it's hard not to wonder about their ceilings. For Brown, it was his second 30-point performance of the postseason, making him the first player age 21 years or younger to have two such performances in a series since the Chicago Bulls' Derrick Rose did it against the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2010.

A year later, Rose was the league's MVP.

What Brown and Tatum did during the regular season was remarkable enough, including helping an injury-riddled team to 55 wins. They became only the third tandem age 22 or younger in Celtics history to score 1,000 points apiece in the same season, joining Antoine Walker and Ron Mercer in 1997-98 and Bob Cousy and Ed Macauley in 1950-1951, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

The big storyline surrounding the Celtics entering the postseason was whether these two could possibly maintain their regular-season production on the playoff stage. Through four games, Brown is averaging a team-best 23.8 points per game while Tatum is chipping in 15.8 points. That's a total uptick of 11.2 points per game over their regular-season scoring averages.

What's more, Boston is plus-37 when Tatum and Brown share the floor together compared to minus-43 when only one or neither is on the court, according to ESPN Stats & Info research. All four of Boston's best two-man lineups this postseason feature either Brown or Tatum. But none have been more effective than when the two youngsters are together.

"We need those guys to play well, and I think they understand that," veteran forward Marcus Morris said. "All season, they've been playing well. In big games, they step up."

Tatum likes to joke that Stevens only yells at him and Brown. It's not far from the truth, but only because Stevens expects so much from the past two drafts' No. 3 picks.

On the eve of the 2018 playoffs, Brown was reflecting on that tough love and suggested he wouldn't want it any other way.

"The NBA doesn't have time to babysit nobody, especially a 20- or 19-year-old coming into the league," Brown said. "Especially coming in on a playoff team.

"I didn't want to give nobody no room to say, 'OK, he's not ready' or 'OK, he has to mature' or anything. So I think it was just my mindset from the get-go. Everything is a growth experience for me. They might not see it now, but they'll see it soon."

At the same time Brown was gritting through Sunday's news conference, Al Horford stood in Boston's locker room looking like he'd had a bit of a revelation. Yes, losing hurt, but Horford saw something in the way Tatum and Brown played at the end of that game that had him excited for the future.

And we're not talking about for next year. We're talking for Game 5.

"We have high expectations, but, at the end of the day, we have a lot of young players. We're all learning as we go," Horford said. "And that was really encouraging [how the young guys played at the end of Game 4]."

"Everything is a growth experience for me. They might not see it now, but they'll see it soon."
Celtics G Jaylen Brown

Before the start of the playoffs, Horford had fondly reflected on his first playoff experience in 2008, when the upstart Atlanta Hawks pushed Boston's Big Three to seven games before bowing in the opening round.

Horford said it "shaped my career" and taught him about the "intensity of the playoffs, the way you need to play." He knows how valuable games like Sunday's are for Tatum and Brown.

"Nothing prepares you for these moments," Horford said. "I've been impressed with how Jayson and Jaylen have stepped up to the challenge."

But he also sees how much Brown and Tatum want to win right now, and that's even more exciting as the Celtics see an opportunity to make noise sooner than most might have expected, considering the circumstances.

On Monday, the Celtics gathered at their training facility to watch film and go through light prep for Game 5. The team didn't spend much time on the court, but Brown stayed late for extra shooting. It was a way to fight the frustration that lingered from not being able to close out Game 4.

When Brown was done, a reporter wondered how many shots in a row he had been trying to make before he finally called it a day.

Said Brown: "Enough to feel good about myself."

But the only thing that will truly make Brown feel good is to win. And win now.