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JT Carries Shorthanded C’s Past Pistons on 2nd Night of B2B

If you need to see an example of why Jayson Tatum should be at the forefront of the never-too-early MVP conversation, then look no further than his performance from Saturday night.

The Boston Celtics flew to Detroit on the second night of a back-to-back without three of their starters – Jaylen Brown, Al Horford, and Rob Williams – and their sixth man, Malcolm Brogdon.

Facing a Pistons team eager for revenge after a defeat in Boston three nights prior, this matchup had “trap game” written all over it.

However, Tatum did what any MVP candidate would do in such a situation: he put the team on his back and carried them to their sixth straight win.

Tatum erupted for a season-high 43 points, shooting 14-of-28 from the field, 7-of-14 from 3-point range, and 8-of-10 from the free throw line. Fifteen of those points came during the fourth quarter when the C’s outscored Detroit by 10, which was the difference in a game that they won by a score of 117-108.

The All-NBA wing also corralled a team-high-tying 10 rebounds, dished out three assists, snagged one steal, and blocked one shot. Most impressively, he played 41 minutes after playing 37 the night before in a win over Denver.

Tatum told NBC Sports Boston’s Brian Scalabrine after the game that his mindset was to “be aggressive and find a way to win.”

“We got in late last night,” he added, “back-to-back, whatever the circumstances were, all that mattered tonight is that we won or not and that’s all I was thinking regardless of how many points or whatever. Just find a way to win.”

Tatum has been helping Boston find ways to win all season with his scoring, which has risen to a new level. He’s amassed the most points in the NBA with 420 in 13 games – an average of 32.3 per game. He’s also attempted the second-most free throws with 117 on an 87.2 percent conversion rate.

During Boston’s six-game winning streak, Tatum has put up 34.8 points per game, while shooting 47.0 percent from the field and 39.4 percent from long range. He’s attempted 11.3 free throws per game during that span.

“This is definitely the best I’ve ever felt to start a season,” Tatum said during his postgame interview. “It kind of felt like how I was playing toward the end of the last season when we really went on that run. It feels great to start a season like this because I definitely know what it feels like to be on the other side.”

Tatum is referring to the fact that he hasn’t always started off his seasons hot, and generally picks up steam as the campaign goes on. This time, however, he’s arguably been the best player in the league throughout the first month of action.

The 24-year-old continually finds ways to lead his team to victory, and despite the fact that Detroit has one of the worst records in the league, Saturday night’s performance was still one of his biggest moments.

This was the first game in which Tatum was missing his star wing-mate, Brown. He and the Celtics were also without the playmaking of Brogdon and the steady leadership of Horford.

So how did he respond? He helped to fill the void of Brown’s scoring by shouldering an extra load of shot attempts, he made dazzling plays for himself and others, and he was a leader in helping Boston get over the mental hurdle of playing on the second night of a back-to-back while also being extremely shorthanded.

If there’s any type of performance that screams “MVP,” this was it. And surely, there are many more that are soon to come.