Denver Nuggets star Nikola Jokic walked into the TD Garden on Friday night with the massive label of being the two-time reigning NBA MVP.
But with the Boston Celtics cruising past the Nuggets, 131-112, Jokic gave way to what certainly looks like a future MVP.
Celtics superstar Jayson Tatum outplayed Jokic in the victory, scoring in a multitude of ways and contributing in different areas to be without a doubt the best player on the parquet. Tatum netted a game-high 34 points, which marked his third straight performance, and seventh overall this season, of scoring at least 30.
Tatum definitely looked the part of an MVP, never seeming out of control and exuding the confidence that he could get any shot he wanted at any time, which he did. Tatum asserted himself as well, converting six of his 11 made shots inside the restricted area. That drive also led to the ongoing trend of frequent trips to the free-throw line as Tatum knocked down 10-of-11 tries — it’s his third game this month with double-digit attempts from the charity stripe.
Throw in a couple of 3-pointers plus grabbing eight rebounds and handing out five assists and it was a complete effort from Tatum, who also looks like a different player on the defensive end this season.
Jokic didn’t make nearly the same impact as Tatum. The 6-foot-11 offensive wizard, who came into the contest nearly averaging a triple-double, tallied 29 points and eight rebounds, but was held to a season-low three assists and finished the game a minus-14, which was the second-worst mark on the Nuggets.
Jokic is still breathtaking to watch with his array of offensive moves and ability to execute highlight-reel passes from a variety of angles, but Tatum’s play seemed even more striking as he took control of the contest.
Tatum took a massive step last season, helping to lead the Celtics to the NBA Finals while garnering First Team All-NBA honors. But through 12 games this season, it feels like Tatum has taken his game to another level, climbing another rung on the proverbial ladder to enter the MVP conversation.
And it’s certainly a conversation worth having given his stellar play. Oddsmakers have noticed with Tatum’s MVP odds rising dramatically less than a month into the regular season.
Tatum still has to battle Jokic, Luka Doncic and Giannis Antetokounmpo among others to get the hardware that Jokic already has. But Tatum is closing in on it, and doing so fast.
His performance against Jokic and the Nuggets was the latest example of that as it could be the passing of the torch from one MVP to the next.