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Can Jayson Tatum strengthen MVP case amid hot shooting streak?

With a hot shooting start to 2024, can Jayson Tatum build up his MVP case?

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Boston Celtics Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports

After failing to show up against the Los Angeles Lakers in their last game, the Boston Celtics got back on track with a 131-91 win over the Memphis Grizzlies on Sunday night. Memphis came into TD Garden missing multiple key players, and unlike last Thursday, Boston took full advantage of the soft matchup. With Jaylen Brown out for the game with lower back tightness, Jayson Tatum had a signature performance and led the way for the Celtics in their landslide victory.

The win was a nice palate cleanser after the disappointing effort against the shorthanded Lakers, a loss that drew plenty of criticism and the ire of fans after both LeBron James and Anthony Davis were ruled out before tipoff. It was a not-so-subtle reminder for the Celtics to not take any opponent lightly, which can be a struggle for a team capable of winning without playing their best ball. After their victory on Sunday, Jayson Tatum spoke on bouncing back and trying to avoid playing down to their competition.

“Regardless of who was out, they had a lot of guys out, we just wanted to focus on us today,” said Tatum, “We didn’t want to get caught up in playing down to the competition, or whatever. We wanted to come out here and show respect by playing the right way, playing hard, and competing on both ends of the floor.”

That’s the kind of messaging you want to hear from your top player, and especially in a game where it would be so easy to mail it in. Losses like the one to LA happen with the best of teams, but what matters most is how the team responds after. So much of that depends on your top player showing up regardless of the matchup and playing hard. Based on how the Celtics kicked off their game against the Grizzlies, they certainly took the Lakers loss as a wake-up call.

Filling out the stat sheet and leading all scorers, Jayson Tatum notched 34 points, 8 rebounds and 7 assists on an efficient 12-of-22 shooting. What’s more impressive is, the all-star starter did most of his damage from beyond the arc, drilling 6-of-12 from range and making it look effortless in the process. Over the last three games (including the loss to the Lakers), Tatum has shot 48.4% on three pointers on a combined 15-of-31 from distance.

It might be a little early to say, but Jayson Tatum’s three-ball seems to be turning a corner in the new year. Per NBA Stats, since January 1st, Tatum has led the Celtics in three-point attempts (7.7 3PA) and makes (3.2 3PM) per game on 42% from deep. In January alone, Tatum shot 40.4% (44-of-109) from beyond the arc over 15 games, his best shooting in the month of January since the 2020-21 season.

This has been one of the hottest starts to a calendar year for Tatum in a long time, and if he continues to build on it, he could really insert himself into the MVP conversation. As of February 2nd, he’s firmly planted himself in the top 5 on NBA.com’s Kia MVP Ladder, trailing Giannis Antetokounmpo, Joel Embiid, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and Nikola Jokic. However, with Embiid slated to miss a significant amount of time following his meniscus injury, he will be disqualified from the MVP conversation due to games missed.

If the MVP race comes down to the four of Jokic, Giannis, SGA, and Tatum, it will be interesting to see Tatum’s chances at taking home the hardware. Season after season, Boston’s superstar really finds his rhythm after All-Star Weekend, and he carries that momentum into the playoffs. Right now, Tatum has rediscovered his three-point shot at a crucial point for the Celtics, as they can really rise above the rest of the east even more.

Even after making big splashes over the summer and adding crucial pieces in Jrue Holiday and Kristaps Porzingis, so much of Boston’s title hopes lie on Tatum’s shoulders. Of course, Jaylen Brown factors into the equation as well, but it’s Tatum that is the glue for this roster, serving as a connector and buoy for so many of the Celtics’ rotations. His impact on both sides of the ball is unquestionable, and as we’ve seen in the postseason, Tatum has the ability to take over late in games for monster performances.

The best way for Jayson Tatum to make his case for MVP this season is to separate himself from the pack with his play, and it’s starting to happen right before our eyes. It’s not even a matter of standing out among the other favorites for the award but separating himself from the rest of the Celtics. If you’re playing at a higher level than everyone else on the best team in the league, it makes for a rock-solid MVP candidacy.

Jayson Tatum and the Boston Celtics will look to make it two wins in a row as they welcome the Atlanta Hawks to TD Garden tonight, 7:30PM EST.

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