After an underwhelming effort throughout most of the game, the Celtics clawed their way back from a 15-point deficit against the Oklahoma City Thunder and rallied to a 126-122 win. The thrilling victory was Boston’s seventh straight, and with it, the Celtics boast the best record in the league. The one common thread during the Celtics win streak has been the leadership and performance of Jayson Tatum, who has continued to further build a case to be considered a legitimate MVP candidate.
Jayson Tatum this season:— StatMuse (@statmuse) November 15, 2022
— 2nd in first half points
— 2nd in second half points
— 2nd in total points
Top __ scorer in the NBA pic.twitter.com/xEG98mFiTX
Beyond just playing well on an individual level, the Celtics are winning behind his contributions. Based on the stats, they’re playing some of the best offense the NBA has seen, with an offensive rating of 120.2; that would be an all-time NBA record. They’ve been moving the ball with joy and energy, and it’s paying dividends. The Celtics are a well-oiled offensive machine, and Jayson Tatum is at the heart of it, leading the team in scoring (31.9 ppg), rebounding (7.4 rpg), and ranks second in assists (3.9 apg) trailing only lead guard Marcus Smart.
MVP chants rained down from the TD Garden stands as Tatum stepped to the free throw line in the 4th quarter, with the Celtics putting the final touches on their comeback win. Tatum scored 10 of Boston’s 37 points in the final quarter. Of course Tatum heard them, as well as all of the chatter in the media about his candidacy. “I mean it’s always been a dream of mine,” said Tatum of potentially winning MVP. “It’s like an honor to even be mentioned or thought of, you know, the idea of me winning MVP.”
According to BetOnline.ag, he's the favorite over Luka Doncic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Steph Curry, and Joel Embiid and while the praise is nice, it’s not the goal that he’s got his eyes set on. “That was not like a goal of mine coming into the season, you know?” said Tatum. “I wanted to play at an MVP level, meaning that playing great basketball, being efficient and being on one of the best teams....my goal, and I’ve said it all summer and preseason, was to get back to the Finals and and not have that feeling again.”
Coach Joe Mazzulla has cited the Finals loss as motivation and fuel for his competitive fire, which is only logical.
"Along the way, if we win enough games and I play well enough and able to win (MVP), obviously that’s a dream come true...but for me, I didn’t say at one time this summer I want to win MVP. I just, more so, I want to play at that level and affect the game on both ends night in and night out and do what I can to help us win games.”
To his credit, he’s walking the walk and talking the talk, and in a game where he was struggling a little from the field, Tatum still was impacting the game in other ways, especially by putting his head down and getting to the line as well as being a beast on the defensive glass. Despite the off shooting night, Tatum said his goal was to “still impact the game, still rebound, try to get deflections, get steals, get blocks, set guys, set screens, get into the lane, find somebody that’s open, still have my imprint on the game. Ultimately, just find a way to win, that’s what’s most important. We’re playing extremely well right now and we’re trying to keep it up. So at the end of the night, look up and if we won, you know I’m satisfied.”
Playing the right way and with effort and energy will win games, and to his point, that’s exactly what Tatum is doing. Winning the MVP is, again, one of the highest honors and accolades the game of basketball can offer an individual. Tatum knows that, but he’s not hyper-focused on individual stats or performance, he’s about the bottom line. Is Jayson Tatum playing at an MVP level right now? Sure, one could say that. But more importantly, he’s playing like a champion.