The Boston Celtics have been among the best teams in the NBA over the last few months, and arguably the best. Since the calendar turned to 2022, the Celtics have the best record in the NBA at 32-11 after a brutal first couple months. Huge parts of their amazing form in the second half of the season were three massive winning streaks of nine, six, and five wins in a row.
Still, the Celtics need to close the season out strong despite the loss of Robert Williams. To do that, they will need some great performances in the last few games. It will take them the whole roster, but they need a leader. Let's look at the one player the Celtics must rely on most over their final three games of the regular season as they jockey for playoff seeding in the tight Eastern Conference.
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One player Celtics must rely on
There are absolutely no doubts about this: that player is Jayson Tatum. While the entire team is amazing together, their leader and the best player is Jayson Tatum, without a second thought. The 23-year-old forward from Duke has been instrumental in their run to the top of the East since 2022 rolled around. His offensive output, not unlike his defense as well, has been elite, to say the least, and if the Celtics want to keep the No. 2 seed or threaten the Miami Heat for No. 1, they need to continue relying on Tatum for this final stretch of games.
Stats can barely do his impact justice, but looking at them, Tatum looks great. He averages 27.0 points, 8.0 rebounds, 4.4 assists, and a steal while shooting 45.2% from the field and 35.1% from behind the arc. However, that is just the start.
When looking at advanced numbers, Tatum ranks among the best in the league. According to NBA.com/stats, Tatum leads the league in net rating among players with at least 50 games and at least 25 minutes per game. He also is seventh in defensive rating and ninth in usage rate.
Beyond the stats, however, Tatum has produced some amazing moments for the Celtics this season. While the entire Celtics team has been great, one moment that maybe best captures this entire run they've made was the duel between Tatum and Kevin Durant, when the Celtics won against the Nets at TD Garden and Tatum scored 54 points on 16-of-30 shooting from the field.
Thankfully for Tatum and his Celtics, the last three games in the season do not contain a game versus the Nets, but they have some tough games coming up. First, it will be a trip to the Windy City to play the Chicago Bulls, then to Wisconsin to face Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks, and then closing up shop against Ja Morant (if he is back in action) and the budding Memphis Grizzlies.
These are three tough games and they come at a critical time for the Celtics. It is not only about getting higher up the standings, but also about continuing on with this form into the postseason. They are currently on a two-game win streak and sitting in second place with a 49-30 record, showing that they bounced back from the two losses against the Toronto Raptors in OT and Miami. They need to close this season out strong.
These last three games will be a great test for Boston. The Celtics have dominated the second half of the regular season, but we have seen stronger teams from the regular season buckle in the playoffs. If they manage to win these games, not only will it send a message to other teams in the NBA, but it will also be the continuation of their amazing play since 2022 came about.
Of course, this is all starts and ends with Jayson Tatum. Obviously, all the respect goes out to the rest of this Boston Celtics roster, but if Tatum was not as talented on both ends of the court as he is, there would be no Celtics run to this point. They need to continue doing what they have been doing this season, which is to rally behind the on-court leadership of Tatum, and the Celtics should be all good to end the season on a very high note even with a key player in Robert Williams sidelined.
The Celtics star will likely not get the love other guys around the league are getting, but if his career goes further than these runs in the last few years, we can definitely say that Jayson Tatum will be an MVP candidate in the near future.