Jayson Tatum has forced me to believe in the Boston Celtics

In Game 7, Jayson Tatum produced one of the great performances in NBA history, but more than that, he forced me to believe in the Boston Celtics Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports
In Game 7, Jayson Tatum produced one of the great performances in NBA history, but more than that, he forced me to believe in the Boston Celtics Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports /

If I had been allowed to craft the script of the Boston Celtics’ Game 7 victory over the 76ers like it was a super-ultra-deluxe custom cheeseburger at one of those swanky upscale burger places in West L.A., here’s what I would have ordered:

– Win by 20+

– Al Horford plays dominant defense on Embiid

Jayson Tatum scores 40+

– Harden turns into a Pumpkin

– Extra Ketchup

I obviously would have been thrilled with just a win by any amount, but not even I had the audacity to ask for a Tatum 50-burger. It’s a bit like when you’re a kid before Christmas writing your letter to Santa, conscious of his magic powers but also understanding it could be considered rude to ask for something too outlandish. Maybe I should have been greedier, because Tatum brought the goods and then some.

His performance today was so transcendent, so iridescent, so resplendent that I ran out of big words that end in “dent” to say that Tatum was absolute dynamite.

Tatum’s 51 points were the most in a Game 7 in NBA history, but that was hardly the most impressive part of Tatum’s magnum opus. His end-to-end flamethrowing unlocked an extra gear of free-flowing basketball beauty on both ends of the floor, removing whatever mental block was plaguing this team and letting everyone get in on the party.

And Tatum got plenty of help from the party-goers. Jaylen Brown put Boston Celtics fans on notice after Game 6, saying that he expected them to bring it for Game 7, and showed he meant business during his four-minute stretch of pure chaos in the second quarter that included: getting a technical foul, drawing a technical, receiving an elbow-to-the-face flagrant, jumping a pass and scoring in transition before turning and pumping up the crowd.

And as Brown was cultivating the perfect basketball greenhouse, his best friend Tatum showed up to reap the rewards. His overflowing emotion turned into a palpable connection with the crowd, who showered him with support after every shot, rubbing salt in the 76ers’ Tatum-shaped wound that kept opening up. But not even that was the best part.

Because the best part was how Tatum’s greatness was a referendum on believing, both in a team and yourself. In his dominance, Tatum convinced his teammates that they could play without any of the usual pressure, as they knew that even if they messed up, he was all over it. Even when Derrick White committed the most emotionally confusing flagrant foul of all time,* the party continued. Tatum had lifted the team above what any one moment could tarnish.

Jayson Tatum gave the 76ers no chance against the Boston Celtics

Even more important, though, was that Tatum made the 76ers believe that they simply had no chance of defeating him. The complete lack of effort they displayed in the face of a Boston Celtics avalanche was a product of Tatum’s mastery of the moment. Embiid and Harden evidently saw no reason to resist the inevitable.

And finally, Tatum and the Celtics have forced me to believe. After Game 5, I demanded to know if this team had the requisite dog in them to actually win four straight rounds, and wagered that having to win two straight elimination games was the time to find out. In response, Tatum lifted up a megaphone and said yes.

*Side note: The reason White’s flagrant foul left me emotionally perplexed was threefold: 

1. White obstructed Tyrese Maxey’s landing space on a 3-pointer, which is something I would usually have a complete meltdown about, as it can result in a 5-point play, which is what happened. But… 

2. It was completely inconsequential, as the 76ers were so doomed already that I honestly am proud of D-White for even trying to contest the shot.

3. It came after I had just spent the last half-hour uncontrollably dancing around my living room, so it was a really weird vibe to throw into the moment.