Jayson Tatum: Joel Embiid MVP ceremony 'got me really ready to play'

ByJamal Collier ESPN logo
Saturday, May 6, 2023

PHILADELPHIA -- As 76ers superstar Joel Embiid was being presented with his MVP award by NBA commissioner Adam Sliver in front of a sold-out Philadelphia crowd chanting "MVP,"Celtics star Jayson Tatum watched the ceremony from the locker room ahead of Friday night's Game 3.

It's a normal part of Tatum's routine; he usually leaves the court once the buzzer sounds at the end of warmups, before the national anthem and player introductions. But he could still hear the ceremony taking place on court as he watched Embiid on a television screen receiving the trophy.

The crowd and the moment served as motivation for Tatum, who responded with a team-high 27 points to help Boston spoil Embiid's night with a 114-102 victory that gave the Celtics a 2-1 lead in the Eastern Conference semifinal series.

"It just got me really ready to play," Tatum said about watching Embiid collect his MVP trophy. "You could feel the energy from the crowd and the building. I'm happy for [Embiid]. He earned it, he deserved it, but I was just focused on trying to win tonight."

Tatum was held to seven points in 19 minutes thanks to some early foul trouble in Game 2 on Wednesday night, but the Celticsstill cruised to a blowout victory despite a quiet night from their superstar.

"I only played 18 minutes, so it was like a day off," Tatum said after shootaround Friday morning.

It took Tatum just three minutes Friday to score more than he did in all of Game 2. And he matched his Game 2 output once again in the final three minutes of Game 3, outscoring the Sixers by himself 7-6 to help seal Boston's win.

"We were organized," Celtics guard Malcolm Brogdon said. "Just organized. Poised and made the right reads. Made shots, of course, but you can't do any of that unless you're organized and get to the right spots and get the ball in the right hands.

"We were able to do that, get the ball in JT's hands, and he made the right read time and time again."

After struggling to execute in the fourth quarter of Game 1 -- which cost them the lead and eventually the game -- the Celtics were much more efficient closing out the victory in Game 3 by putting the ball in Tatum's hands.

First, Tatum hit a turnaround jumper with 2:40 remaining in the fourth quarter. After a 3-pointer from James Harden cut Boston's advantage to six points, Tatum knocked down a step-back jumper to extend the lead again.

On Boston's next possession, Tatum drew a foul and knocked down a pair of free throws that pushed the game out of reach.

"He played a terrific game all around, but he finished a tough game on the road in a hostile environment for us," Brogdon said. "That's what superstars do."

In addition to Tatum's excellence, the Celtics have continued to turn up the defensive intensity on the Sixers.

According to Second Spectrum, Boston has picked up Philadelphia's backcourt on 31 possessions in each of the past two games (the Celtics never did so more than 25 times in a game previously). Embiid finished with 30 points, but no one else finished with more than 16 points as the Sixers shot 39.7% from the field.

After his 45-point effort in the series opener, Hardenstruggled for the second consecutive game, shooting 3-of-14 and finishing with 16 points.

"We know how dominant Embiid is and can be, and we know how if those other guys get going, how deadly the Sixers can be," said Celtics guard Jaylen Brown, who finished with 23 points. "So we just ultimately wanted to be better on defense and make it all harder for everybody. And I think our pressure and intensity the last two games have done that."

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