It’s fitting that a Celtic is the inaugural winner of the Larry Bird trophy.
Jayson Tatum, Boston’s star forward, received the trophy on the court at FTX Arena after being voted the most valuable player in the Eastern Conference finals following the Celtics’ Game 7 win on Sunday.
Tatum scored a team-high 26 points on 9-of-21 shooting with 10 rebounds and six assists in the 100-96 victory. Throughout the series, the 24-year-old averaged 25 points per game on 46 percent shooting, to go with 8.3 rebounds and 5.6 assists.
Tatum said it was a “great honor” to receive the award, but he was happier that he finally broke through in the conference finals in his third trip.
“To get over the hump with this group, it means everything. So, I couldn’t be prouder of these guys,” Tatum told ESPN’s Lisa Salters during the award presentation. “The road that we took to get here, not a lot of people believed in us. We took the toughest route, and it worked out.”
While Tatum was honored with an award named after a Celtic legend, he honored a Lakers legend during the game: Tatum wore a purple armband with “24″ on it, an homage to Kobe Bryant.
“Game 7,” Tatum said when asked on why he wore the armband. “Everyone knows how much he means to me. He’s my idol and my favorite player. Just to have something to show him in the biggest game of my career so far, and it worked out.”
Tatum made a few Bryant-like shots in the fourth quarter. With the shot clock winding down, he sunk a contested step-back 3-pointer that gave the Celtics a 93-81 lead with 5:54 left. Two possessions later, Tatum got the ball again off an inbounds play with the shot clock winding down. He broke away from Jimmy Butler and drained an 18-foot jumper to give the Celtics a 95-85 lead.
Those two shots ended up being pivotal as the Heat went on an 11-0 run to cut the Celtics’ lead to 98-96 with less than 30 seconds left. Butler missed a pull-up 3-pointer that would’ve given Miami the lead, and after Marcus Smart made a pair of free throws, Boston got one last stop to advance to the NBA Finals.
Tatum received eight of the nine votes for the award, with Butler receiving the other vote.
“It’s an honor, it still doesn’t even seem real right now,” Tatum said in his postgame press conference. “I’m just extremely happy and grateful for all of this. And regardless of how long I’ve been in the league, I’m not too far removed from when I was in high school and I was dreaming about moments like this. I still feel like a kid sometimes, and I’m really truly living out my dream.”
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