Mavericks coach Jason Kidd calls Jaylen Brown, not Jayson Tatum, Celtics’ ‘best player’

BOSTON — Raising the eyebrows of the assembled media Saturday afternoon, Mavericks coach Jason Kidd said Jaylen Brown — not the more decorated Jayson Tatum — was the Celtics’ “best player.”

Asked after Dallas’ practice what was “challenging” about playing against Brown in the NBA Finals, Kidd paused and laughed, “Um, Jaylen’s their best player, so seeing what he does defensively, he takes on Luka (Doncic). ) Full court, he’s free. -Gets to the throw line, he does everything.

“That’s what your best player does.”

Brown scored 22 points and added six rebounds, three blocks and three steals in Boston’s 107-89 win in Game 1. He attempted 11 free throws but hit only six.

Maybe Kidd doesn’t put a premium on taking those shots, just takes them. Meanwhile, Tatum scored 16 points with 11 rebounds, but went 6 of 16 in Game 1.

Either way, with Game 2 on Sunday at TD Garden at 8 p.m. ET, a debate the Celtics don’t particularly like has been reintroduced by the opposing coach.

“They need to focus on truth,” Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla said of his first two players. “At the end of the day, nobody knows because they’re not in the locker room.”

Tatum said: “We understand that people are trying to drive a wedge between us. I think that’s a smart thing for Jason to try to do. But we have been in this position for years, and those who try to divide us say that one of us must be traded, that one is better than the other. So this is not the first time.

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And Brown: “It’s a team game, and we try to focus on that, you know, everybody has their opinions.”

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Tatum and Brown teamed up for the 2016-17 season. Tatum, 26, is a five-time All-Star, three-time All-NBA first teamer and averaged 23.1 points per game in his career. He will play in his second Olympics this summer and is eligible for a contract extension worth more than $300 million.

Brown, 27, has made three All-Star teams and one All-NBA selection (second team). He averaged 18.6 points in his career and last summer was given the largest contract extension in NBA history — five years and $304 million.

Brown felt cheated by not making any All-NBA teams this season, and days after learning he didn’t, five of nine media panelists voted Tatum the Eastern Conference Finals MVP. The vote led to a debate over NBA media programs pitting Brown and Tatum against each other, which angered the Celtics.

Tatum said he and Brown have privately discussed outside efforts to separate them. “We’re very focused on our roles and what our jobs are,” Brown said.

“We all had to sacrifice, and Jason had to do it at the highest level, and I respect him and take my hat off to him,” Brown said. “But right now at this point, it’s whatever it takes.”

Maybe he’s just sharing his honest opinion, but Kidd, an NBA lifer with two NBA championship rings, knows how to play this game.

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“He’s playing on both sides, defensively and offensively, at a high rate, and he’s been doing that the entire playoffs,” Kidd said of Brown. “You’re talking about the Eastern Conference Finals MVP, and it looks like he just picked up right where he left off.”

Boston veteran Al Horford (age 38) smiled when asked about Kidd’s trick.

“Jason Kidd … I see what he’s doing. I see what he is doing.

“Jaylen is an incredible player,” Horford said. “An incredible player.”

AthleticTim Cato contributed to this story.

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(Photo: Jesse D. Garabrand / NBAE via Getty Images)

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