It’s awards season at Celtics.com! We’re giving away six awards over the next week as we progress through this year’s Celtics.com Awards Series. We may not have trophies or acceptance speeches, but we do have some high-profile Celtics performances to outline. Here we go…
Today we conclude our 2022 award series with our most prominent recognition. For the third year in a row, Jayson Tatum owns the team’s Most Valuable Player award.
For the fifth straight season, Tatum increased both his production and his role with the Celtics. The 24-year-old forward averaged career highs of 26.9 points, 8.0 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game during the regular season. He grew up as a vocal leader in the dressing room. And he helped lead Boston deeper into the playoffs than it has in more than a decade while leading the postseason in total points and assists.
This was a year in which Tatum went from a perennial All-Star to a legitimate league MVP contender and arguably one of the top five players in the entire NBA.
The 2021-22 season was the biggest test of Tatum’s career after the Celtics struggled out of the gates to a mediocre start. By mid-January, Boston had amassed a 23-24 record, and Tatum wasn’t quite himself either, up to that point he was shooting 41.6 percent from the field and 31.1 percent from long range.
Then on Jan. 24 against Washington, Tatum broke out for 51 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists in a 29-point win over Washington, bringing the Celtics back to .500. It was the turning point of the season, and they never looked back from there.
From that day, Boston finished 28-7 in the regular season. Tatum saw his scoring average increase from 25.2 PPG to 29.1 PPG over that span, and his efficiency increased nearly 10 percentage points to 50.3 percent from the field and 40.2 percent from the 3-point range.
At a crucial moment, Tatum showed exactly what he was made of, never doubting himself or his teammates and encouraging them to keep fighting.
His struggle was noted when he finished sixth in the league’s MVP vote while earning his first All-NBA First Team selection alongside Nikola Jokic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Devin Booker and Luka Doncic.
In the playoffs, Tatum took his fight to another level.
In Game 1 against Brooklyn, he delivered the first game-winning playoff buzzer-beater in franchise history at home and set the tone for a first-round win. He averaged 29.5 points, 7.3 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 1.8 steals per game that streak while helping push Nets superstar Kevin Durant to an uncharacteristic 38.6 percent shooting clip limit at the other end of the parquet.
Round 2 was a tougher task for Tatum and the C’s as they took on two-time league MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and defending champion Milwaukee Bucks. Milwaukee took a 3-2 lead in the series, but Tatum kept the Celtics alive with an epic 46-point performance in Game 6 on the road before eliminating the Bucks in Game 7 at home.
In a rematch of the 2020 Eastern Conference Finals, the Celtics got their revenge on the Miami Heat in another seven-game thriller. Tatum was once again at the forefront. He averaged 25.0 points, 8.3 rebounds, 5.6 assists and 1.1 steals per game, making him the inaugural Larry Bird Eastern Conference Finals MVP award winner.
Unfortunately, after leading Boston to its first Finals since 2010, Tatum and the C’s couldn’t get the job done against the Golden State Warriors. Despite a shoulder injury, he still averaged 21.5 points, 6.8 rebounds, 7.0 assists and 1.2 steals per game while shooting 45.5 percent from deep in the six-game streak.
Tatum ended the postseason as the league leader in total points and assists while also finishing second in steals and sixth in rebounds and blocks. He scored by far the most points in the regular season and playoffs combined, ending the year with 2,661 in the points column, nearly 300 more than Antetokounmpo’s runner-up of 2,382.
At just 24, Tatum established himself as one of the league’s top all-around players, a legitimate MVP contender, and the most valuable member of a championship contender.