MIAMI — Boston Celtics swingman Jayson Tatum was named the first Larry Bird Award winner as the NBA Eastern Conference Finals MVP at the end of the series on Sunday.
Tatum, 24, wore an armband honoring Kobe Bryant as the Celtics beat the Miami Heat 100-96 in Game 7, and he delivered one of the most important performances of his career – scoring 26 points , grabbing 10 rebounds and adding 6 assists in 46 minutes. Tatum entered Game 7 averaging 24.8 points, 8 rebounds and 5.5 assists and repeatedly made big plays when the Celtics needed it.
“It’s an honor,” Tatum said of the first Bird Award. “It still doesn’t feel real right now. I’m just extremely happy and grateful for it all. No matter how long I’ve been in the league, I’m not too far removed from when I was in high school. and when I dreamed of times like this.
“I still feel like a kid at times where I’m really living my dream. I thank God every day that I’m in this position to be able to do this. To be the first person to win this award, obviously after Larry Bird, it’s not Still ain’t sunk yet I’ll take it home and show [my son] Devil [Monday] and enjoy it.”
Tatum’s consistency throughout the series sets him apart. Night after night, he delivered key moments, especially late in Game 7 as he hit several big jumpers and made solid defensive plays against Heat star Jimmy Butler. Tatum and Butler shared a handshake and a hug on center court after the series finale, displaying the mutual admiration that was evident in all series.
“A guy who carried us through the season,” Celtics coach Ime Udoka said. “He asked a lot to be put on his shoulders and delivered. You look at the numbers, a 26-point night and that’s the norm for him. It’s an average night for him. He’s averaging 27 this year, First Team All-NBA. So he knows that we count on him a lot…
“Jayson is the head of the snake. All the accolades he gets are well deserved, and he’s only 24 and hasn’t even touched his ceiling, not even close to that.”
With the Bird Trophy under his belt, Tatum finally got the Celtics back to the NBA Finals, where he now has a chance to cement his legacy in Boston. Game 1 against the Golden State Warriors is Thursday in San Francisco. The fact that he did it while wearing an armband honoring Bryant made it even more special for the young star.
“Obviously he was my idol,” Tatum said. “He was my inspiration. He was my favorite player. The shoes that I wore, that I wore for the last two games, were dedicated to him.
“Today, before I took my nap – I do sometimes, I was watching a movie and some moments of him and his career. This is the biggest game of my career so far, and I wanted to wear this armband to honor him and kind of share this moment in some way.”
While Tatum won the Bird Award, it was Butler’s performance that could last even longer in the annals of the game. The 32-year-old scored 35 points and grabbed 9 rebounds in Game 7 – and entered the deciding contest averaging 24 points, 6.7 rebounds and 3.8 assists in the series.
Butler’s streak was made even more impressive by the fact that he had to deal with intermittent right knee pain throughout the past week and missed the second half of Game 3 due to persistent knee problems. Throughout the series, Butler imposed his will on the game and carried the Heat to victories. In Miami’s Game 1 win, Butler had 41 points, 9 rebounds and 5 assists in 41 minutes. In Game 6, with the Heat on the verge of being eliminated, Butler played arguably the best game of his career, scoring 47 points, grabbing 9 rebounds and delivering 8 assists in front of a raucous Boston crowd to deliver the Heat. in game 7.
“It’s one of the great performances from an elite competitor,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of Butler. “You know, Jimmy has this unique drive to compete which is a talent in itself. There are a lot of basketball players in this league. Jimmy is a great basketball player. He’s a world class competitor and he knows how to win at basketball .games.It’s a talent.
“And for young players coming into the league, I think it’s a missing talent or skill. It goes to all the other skills. But that’s what makes Jimmy so unique as a world-class player. He just knows how to compete to win and compete not to let you lose. That’s incredible DNA he has in him.”
In the end, it was Tatum who got the better of Butler and the Heat — and got revenge for Miami’s triumph over the Celtics in the 2020 Eastern Conference Finals.
“He does everything,” Butler said. “Shoot the ball, play in the pick-and-roll, he passes the ball incredibly well, goes out in transition. He’s a superstar, and he deserved it. They deserve the win. I wish them the best going forward. forward. He’s a hell of a player, that’s for sure.”