MIAMI — Boston Celtics swingman Jayson Tatum was named the inaugural Larry Bird award winner as the MVP of the NBA Eastern Conference finals at the conclusion of the series Sunday.
Tatum, 24, wore Kobe Bryant’s armband 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 came into Game 7 averaging 24.8 points, 8 rebounds and 5.5 assists and repeatedly made big plays when the Celtics needed them.
Tatum’s consistency throughout the series set him apart. Night after night, he delivered in key moments, especially late in Game 7 as he hit several big jumpers and made strong defensive plays against Heat star Jimmy Butler. Tatum and Butler shared a handshake and a hug at center court after the series finale, displaying the mutual admiration that was apparent all series.
With the Bird trophy under his belt, Tatum has finally delivered the Celtics back to the NBA Finals, where he now has a chance to cement his Boston legacy. Game 1 against the Golden State Warriors is Thursday in San Francisco.
While Tatum earned the Bird award, it was Butler’s performance that might last even longer in the annals of history. The 32-year-old scored 35 points and grabbed nine rebounds in Game 7 — and came into the defining contest averaging 24 points, 6.7 rebounds and 3.8 assists in the series.
Butler’s series was made even more impressive by the fact that he dealt with right knee soreness off and on throughout the last week, and missed the second half of Game 3 because of ongoing issues with the knee. Throughout the series, Butler imposed his will on the game and carried the Heat to victories. In Miami’s Game 1 win, Butler racked up 41 points, 9 rebounds and 5 assists in 41 minutes. In Game 6, with the Heat on the verge of elimination, Butler arguably played the best game of his career, scoring 47 points, grabbing 9 rebounds and dishing out 8 assists in front of a raucous Boston crowd to deliver the Heat into Game 7.
In the end, it was Tatum who got the best of Butler and the Heat — and got some revenge for Miami’s triumph in the 2020 Eastern Conference finals.