Jayson Tatum has won the first-ever Larry Bird Eastern Conference Finals MVP award for his role in helping the Boston Celtics defeat the Miami Heat and advance to their first NBA Finals since 2010. Tatum averaged 25 points, 5.6 assists and 8.3 rebounds while playing essential defense to help the Celtics seal the series victory.
After losing in the first round last year and starting this season a disappointing 23-24, many wondered if the Celtics were even capable of getting to the playoffs, much less making it through them. First-year coach Ime Udoka criticized his players publicly. They criticized each other as well. But over time, Boston slowly grew into the juggernaut we've seen over the past several months.
The Celtics finished the season 28-7 after that 23-24 start. They had the best net rating in the NBA by far after that point and ultimately finished with the NBA's No. 1 defense. Tatum was the driving force behind that turnaround. While his scoring has always been excellent, he improved by leaps and bounds as a playmaker while becoming one of the NBA's very best perimeter defenders. He was chosen as a First-Team All-NBA forward for his efforts.
But he's saved his best for the postseason. Tatum was instrumental in shutting down Brooklyn's Kevin Durant in the first round, and his second-round duel with Milwaukee's Giannis Antetokounmpo culminated in a 46-point Game 6 explosion to save Boston's season. Now Tatum has helped the Celtics overcome Miami as well with a 26-point Game 7, and after two previous misses in the Eastern Conference finals, he is finally going to play in the NBA Finals.