Jayson Tatum is top-2 in the NBA MVP race, and he’s not number two.
Especially after Wednesday night.
Tatum not only faced Luka Doncic, who entered Wednesday’s matchup as the favorite to win the award, but also fueled the Celtics to an overwhelming victory over the visiting Mavericks. The Superstar wing finished with a team-high 37 points, a game-high and a season-high 13 rebounds while also posting a 14-plus plus/minus category.
Doncic, on the other hand, was down 13 while recording 42 points, nine assists, eight rebounds and five rallies.
This was undoubtedly a standout performance, giving a significant boost to Tatum’s MVP résumé earlier in the season. While swanky stats are telling — and Tatum ticks that box every night — they’re even more impressive when they’re accompanied by wins. That’s the recipe for a winning MVP award.
As of Wednesday night, Tatum and his Celtics happen to have a league-best 14 wins, including a blowout head-to-head win over Doncic. You can count.
Boston made it to the Mavericks from start to finish, thanks in large part to Tatum’s efforts. The C’s opened up a 14-point lead in the first quarter that increased to 25 points in the second period when Tatum added 16 of his 37 points. He almost single-handedly turned that game from a competitive game into a laugh as he scored 10 points in under two minutes, including a stretch where he dropped a 3-pointer over Doncic, then blocked a shot on the edge and then a draw made a foul in the transition that resulted in three free throws.
That run broke the backbone and spirit of Doncic and the Mavs, and Boston rolled from there.
There was another highlight, however, and it came thanks to a one-on-one encounter between the two stars.
Just over two minutes into the game, just moments after Tatum scored his last two points of the night, Doncic took him out of dribbling to try and score on the edge. Tatum had none of it as he ran after Doncic, got up from behind and smashed the shot away and off the backboard.
Right now this game felt like more than just a block at the end of an uncompetitive game. It felt symbolic, like putting an exclamation point at the end of a sentence that said “I’m the MVP.”
Celtics fans would surely agree as they serenaded their young star with “MVP!” chants all night as he stood at the free-throw line.
After the game, Tatum was not unaware of the importance of the duel with Doncic. While he didn’t directly acknowledge the MVP race, Tatum was more than willing to admit that this was a game he aimed for and wouldn’t miss, even if he was considered questionable all day with a left ankle sprain .
Tatum agreed with Jaylen Brown’s statement that Tatum would not have missed the game, then added additional context as to why that late November matchup was a little more significant than the norm.
“Yeah, I think as a competitor, with duels like this – against another really good team, against one of the best players in the league (that’s important),” he said. “And especially if we can’t play them that often.”
Tatum alluded to the fact that Dallas had swept the season series against Boston for the past two years. He didn’t want to let that happen again.
Instead, he led the Celtics to a resounding victory at the national level, leaving no doubt as to who will be the league’s MVP at Thanksgiving.