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Jayson Tatum: ‘all I’m concerned about is getting back to the championship’

Jayson Tatum scored 40 points in an MVP performance in Orlando.

Boston Celtics v Orlando Magic Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images

The Boston Celtics tallied their third straight win against the Orlando Magic on Saturday night, winning the second leg of their back-to-back 126-120 at the Amway Center. In a game without Al Horford, Boston was out rebounded 48 to 37 and gave up 22 second chance buckets against a sizable Orlando team. Derrick White had arguably the best game of his Celtics career with 27 points on 10-of-17 shooting, including 5-of-9 from deep along with four rebounds, four assists and a steal. But once again, the Celtics will go as far as Jayson Tatum can carry them, and he gave them his highest scoring game of the season thus far.

Tatum was in control and looking good doing it, dropping 40 points on 14-of-21 from the field, 4-of-10 from beyond the arc along with 8-of-9 from the line, and added in 8 rebounds, two blocks, one assist, and a steal. Boston’s budding superstar became the first Celtics player in history to score over 100 points in his first three games of the season, and surpassed Celtics legend Larry Bird in the process.

“If we’re trying to get back to where we want to be, we got to be way better than this,” Tatum told NBC Sports Boston’s Abby Chin. “It shouldn’t take the back and forth for us to play the right way on both ends. So, we just gotta start better and just play together, way better than we did this game.”

Following their loss to the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals, the Celtics have made it their mission statement to make it back and right the wrongs of the past. Tatum’s comments immediately after the game were on the mark, and for a player who has notably been more quiet, reserved, and soft-spoken, he seems determined to be a voice for this team.

Tatum was aware of his critics who demanded him to be a vocal leader of this group, and acknowledged them during training camp and recent interviews. For what it’s worth, he’s put his money where his mouth is early in the season, and between interviews and his play on the court, he’s walking the walk and talking the talk. The former Duke forward is blossoming into an MVP-caliber player right before our eyes, and the early chatter around him earning the nod is growing every day. There were even chants on the road at Amway Center; it’s far from the first time and definitely won’t be the last.

“I mean, it’s early and honestly, that’s always been a goal of mine,” said Tatum earnestly in his postgame press conference. “Since I was a kid, getting to the NBA wasn’t just what I wanted to do. I wanted to be a champion. You know, reach all those accolades and accomplishments, and MVP is obviously at the top of that list.” If he can continue to keep his play up to this level, Tatum is certainly going to get legitimate consideration for the award when the time comes.

While personal goals and honors are desirable, Tatum still has his focus on one main goal, and that is winning a championship. “I’ve said it a million times, I’ll say it a million more times: all I’m concerned about is getting back to the championship and getting over that hump,” said Tatum, driving the point home. “They kind of go hand-in-hand, right? If we get back to the championship and we’re one of the best teams, that means I’m probably playing at a high level, and everybody else as well.”

For a player as young as Tatum, his experience over the years has matured him to this point, where personal accolades come secondary to the team’s success and he’s not letting it control his focus or change his approach this season. “All the individual accolades will come, like they did last season for all the guys. So, not necessarily an MVP mindset, but just compete, be the best that I can be, try to add value to winning every night, and go out there and do what I do.”

To his credit, that’s exactly what Tatum has done so far this season and lead by example. It might net him some hardware if he can keep up this pace, but hopefully some nice jewelry and a banner as well.

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