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Get them to fight among themselves

BOSTON (AP) — Jason Kidd didn’t know how to stop the Boston Celtics in the first game of the NBA Finals.

Now he hopes they get in his own way.

The Mavericks coach seemed eager to sow discord in the Boston locker room on Saturday when he singled out Jaylen Brown as the Celtics’ best player, words clearly designed to irritate Jayson Tatum, a true first-team All-NBA player left. sixth in voting for league MVP.

When asked during his day off with the media about a game plan for defending Brown, Kidd said, “Well, Jaylen is their best player…”, prompting reporters to perk up and ask: Did he really say that? (It was the last question of his press conference, so there was no follow-up.)

Tatum said it won’t work.

“We understand that people are trying to drive a wedge between us. I guess it’s a smart thing to do, or try to do,” Tatum said. “We’ve been in this position for many years, of guys trying to split us up and say one of us should be traded, or that one is better than the other. So it’s not our first time at the rodeo.”

On that, Brown completely agreed.

“We have been extremely focused on what our roles and our jobs are. “We have all had to sacrifice,” he stated. “Right now, at this point, it’s whatever it takes to win. And we cannot allow any outside interpretation to try to come between us.”

Selected third in consecutive years, Brown and Tatum have become one of the best duos in the NBA, combining to lead the Celtics to the Eastern Conference Finals five times in their seven seasons together. But even with the success — 64 wins this year, first place overall in the league and a second trip to the NBA Finals — they’ve had to combat speculation that there wasn’t room in the locker room for both of them.

Although Tatum’s career numbers have been better, Brown is the highest-paid player in the league, a quirk of timing and age that gave him the first shot at a supermax contract extension that will see him earn more than $300 million in five years. Brown also bested Tatum in the 2022 NBA Finals, was the MVP of this year’s conference finals and outscored Tatum 22-16 in the Game 1 win over Dallas on Thursday night.

That may explain why Kidd said Saturday (twice) that Brown was Boston’s top threat.

“Jaylen is their best player,” the Mavericks coach said. “He did everything and that’s what your best player does. Just understanding how to play both sides (defense and offense at a high pace) he’s been doing it all through the playoffs.”

But no one else seems to think the same.

Tatum averaged 27 points, eight rebounds and five assists this season, and Brown averaged 23, 5.5 and 3.6. And even with Brown outplaying him in Game 1, Tatum’s numbers are also better in the playoffs so far. (And also: the real star of the first game was Boston big man Kristaps Porzingis.)

Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla said he’s not worried about internal rivalries getting in his team’s way as long as his players “focus on the truth.”

“What happens in our locker room, how we communicate with each other, how we build relationships with each other and how we treat each other on and off the court, that’s the most important thing,” he said.

The Mavericks have their own big two, with five-time All-NBA first-team guard Luka Doncic teaming with Kyrie Irving to form an All-Star backcourt. Irving, who teamed with LeBron James to win the 2016 NBA championship in Cleveland even as they struggled to coexist, said he tries not to pay attention to conversations that pit him against his teammate.

“I’m just here to play basketball,” Irving said. “You have to be selfless in your approach. Obviously, you’re not going to do well all the time, but as a teammate, you just want to let go of those other things that don’t really matter or don’t make you better as a team. So we let everyone else argue whose team it is and who has the most responsibility. “All our work is to be prepared.”

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NBA AP: https://apnews.com/NBA

Jimmy Golen, Associated Press

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