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JT and the C’s Blow Out Luka and the Mavs for 10th Straight Win

BOSTON – When NBA.com dropped its weekly MVP Ladder Friday morning, there was a noteworthy change among the top five potential candidates. The three leaders – Nikola Jokic, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and Giannis Antetokounmpo – stood pat, but Nos. 4 and 5 had swapped places with Jayson Tatum leapfrogging Luka Doncic to his highest position since Week 4 of the season.

Naturally, this sparked quite the Internet debate throughout the day. But come nighttime, Tatum and Doncic had the opportunity to settle the discussion on the court at TD Garden.

We’ll just say NBA.com made the right adjustment.

Doncic played like a top-five MVP candidate, putting up 37 points, 12 rebounds, and 11 assists.

However, Tatum was more effective. He put up a more efficient 32 points, outscored Doncic 21-14 in the second half, and helped to lead the Celtics to a 138-110 blowout win.

It marked the second time this season that Tatum has outperformed Doncic after scoring 39 points on 52.4 percent shooting to Doncic’s 33 points on 40.0 percent shooting during a 119-110 Celtics win on Jan. 22 at Dallas.

In those two games combined, Tatum outscored Doncic 71-70 while attempting 15 fewer shots. He was also plus-44 in those two games, compared to Doncic at minus-33. So what’s there to debate?

Another question: If an MVP candidate can’t come close to beating the best team in the league, then where is the value in that?

What is valuable – the most valuable – is the leading player for the best team in the league. Because there is no statistic more important than the win column.

That is not to discredit the rest of Boston’s stars. Every member of the starting lineup is an All-Star/All-Star-caliber player, and we saw how valuable those other pieces were Friday night.

Jaylen Brown dropped 25 points on 55.0 percent shooting along with seven rebounds and five assists. Kristaps Porzingis poured in 24 points on 57.1 percent shooting against his former team. Derrick White flirted with a triple-double, finishing with 13 points, seven rebounds, eight assists, and two blocks. And Jrue Holiday knocked down all three of his 3-point attempts from his favorite corner spot while notching seven assists and two steals.

Though, it was Tatum who left the biggest mark with his game management and his ability to get hot at just the right time in the third quarter to prevent his opponent from getting over the hump.

Tatum has the skill to be putting up Doncic-like numbers on a consistent basis, as we’ve seen him dominate the game in so many different ways throughout his career. But he’s more focused this season on making the right play each time down the court than by padding his personal stats.

He explained, “If KP cuts to the basket or if he pops back off a screen, or if JB has a mismatch, or we come down in transition and Al (Horford) seeks out the mismatch at the block – if it calls for me to essentially pass the ball eight possessions in a row because that’s the right read, then you have to trust that that’s what’s going to help us win the game.”

That, right there, is the mindset of an MVP.

In this case, Porzingis had the hot hand early Friday night, scoring 10 of Boston’s first 15 points. Tatum could have tried to step in amid KP’s spree to put his own scoring stamp on the game, but he recognized that his teammate was in a flow and had no intention of disrupting it.

Tatum knew his time would come, and it did. In the third quarter, Dallas pulled to within two points of the C’s, and that’s when Tatum took control. He went off for 16 points during the frame while making 4-of-5 from deep. By the time the fourth quarter rolled around, he had Boston in the driver’s seat with a 12-point lead.

From there, the Celtics coasted to their 10 straight victory, marking the longest win streak in the NBA this season. During that stretch, Tatum has averaged 28.1 points, 9.0 rebounds, and 6.7 assists per game, leading the team in each category.

A stretch like that is worthy of climbing a rung in the MVP ladder. Next stop: rung No. 3.