After dealing with all of the drama, including Kyrie Irving’s short but destructive stint in Boston, Jayson Tatum has finally got the chance to show what he can do on basketball’s biggest stage.
It’s easy to forget that Tatum has been contending for the Eastern Conference ever since he was a rookie. On that fateful season, where Irving went down before the playoffs, the then-upstart Celtics took LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers to seven games in the conference finals. He’s played in a total of four conference finals since then, and came up short three times. Now, he’s gotten over the hump and will get his first taste at the pressure that comes with being in the NBA Finals.
He gets to take on the challenge of beating the Golden State Warriors, who have made the NBA Finals six times in the last last eight years, and won three titles – with a fourth most likely being taken away by injuries to Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson.
The Boston Celtics sure made things difficult for themselves at times in Game 7, though. After leading by as much as 17 points in a do-or-die Game 7 against the Miami Heat, the Celtics ended up eventually escaping with a 100-96 and saw their lead cut to as little as two points in the final minute of the game.
Tatum was their leading scorer with 26 points, 10 rebounds, six assists, a steal and two blocks. He did a little bit of everything, thanks to his expanding skillset, and even had some excellent assists.
Tatum is undoubtedly Boston’s best player. He’s a rare breed that can win a game by himself, and they’ll need every ounce of effort from him to make a serious run against the hardened and battle-tested Warriors.
Of course, he doesn’t take all the credit for the Finals, as multiple teammates have showed up at key moments to help him, especially his co-star Jaylen Brown, who had 24 points, six rebounds and six assists. The Celtics rely on both Brown and Tatum playing well to succeed, and some may not remember that rumors that they couldn’t co-exist and might get separated were rampant toward the end of 2021.
Reigning defensive player of the year Marcus Smart also showed his offensive chops again in Game 7 as he had 24 points, nine rebounds, five assists and two steals, and his hustle and hard-nosed defense has become a defining characteristic of this edition of the Celtics.
Now we’ll have to see what the Celtics can do in San Francisco later in the week. After more than a decade, they finally have a chance to bring another title back. You’d best believe that Tatum will play a central role in whether or not that plan succeeds.