NBA

Jayson Tatum wanted to 'honour' Kobe Bryant in Celtics' Game 7 win

By Sports Desk May 30, 2022

Boston Celtics star Jayson Tatum said he wanted to "honour" Kobe Bryant, after his side advanced to the NBA Finals on Sunday, defeating the Miami Heat 100-96 on Sunday.

For Game 7, Tatum wore an armband in the colours of the Celtics' long-time rival Los Angeles Lakers – a purple armband with his idol Bryant's number 24 for the Lakers stitched on in gold.

The 24-year-old went on to put up 26 points, 10 rebounds, six assists, two blocks and a steal in just over 45 minutes on the court, taking out the inaugural Larry Bird trophy for Eastern Conference Finals MVP.

While explaining the inspiration behind the armband, Tatum said afterwards how Boston securing their first finals appearance since 2010 and his MVP award all feels surreal.

"That was my inspiration, that was my favourite player," he said post-game. The shoes I wore in the last couple of games were dedicated to him and today, before I took my nap, I was watching some film and some moments from his career. I wanted to wear that armband to honour him and kind of share that moment.

"It's an honour. It still doesn't even seem real right now, but I'm extremely happy and grateful for all of this. Regardless of how long I've been in the league, I'm not too far removed from when I was in high school, dreaming about moments like this.

"I still feel like a kid, sometimes, in that I'm truly living out my dream. To be the first person to win this award, after Larry Bird, it still hasn't sunk in yet."

Boston's playoff opponents to secure the Eastern Conference title were also the three to eliminate them in each of the previous three seasons.

Aside from their progression past the Brooklyn Nets this season, the Celtics engaged in highly physical battles in series against the Milwaukee Bucks and Heat to get to the finals.

According to Tatum, those playoff losses inspired them to get out of the East this time around.

"It was the biggest game of our season and my career, and I just had faith that we were going to give it all we had, regardless of the outcome," he said. "To get over this hump in the fashion that we did it - obviously we took the toughest route possible, winning Game 7 to go to the championship on the road, it's special.

"Losing my first year and losing to these guys in the bubble, I think going through those tough times helped us grow, helped us learn and once we get in that situation again, we'd respond differently.

"In the moment, when you lose those series, obviously it hurts and it's tough, but you never forget it. I think that's what we all had in common, that we had all been through those tough times and we remembered how that felt, and we didn't want to have that feeling again leaving here tonight."

The Celtics will now face the Golden State Warriors, with Game 1 taking place in San Francisco on Thursday.

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    Holiday converted a three-point play with 38 seconds remaining, then made a game-saving steal as the Celtics overcame an 18-point deficit to beat the Pacers 114-111 for a 3-0 Eastern Conference finals lead.

    Indiana's Andrew Nembhard seemed set to claw the Pacers back into Game 3 late on, yet Holiday stepped across for a "trademark steal" to guide his side over the line.

    "That's a trademark steal that he always gets with the inside hand," Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla said of Holiday.

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    As Nembhard looked to cut inside the court, Holiday suggested he always knew what was coming.

    "He's a right-hand driver," the Celtics hero said after the game, "and he'd been very, very aggressive all night."

    Nembhard managed 32 points and nine assists but even that brilliance was not enough to outsmart one of NBA's best defensive players.

    "I was trying to get a shot up," said Nembhard. "He got in front of me. I lost the ball, slipped. Turnover."

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    "I mean, can't speak highly enough about Jrue," said Tatum. "The ultimate teammate competitor, obviously a champion, wasn't at shootaround today, he was sick.

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    The Celtics can clinch their second NBA Finals appearance in three seasons with a win in Game 4 on Monday in Indianapolis.

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    Haliburton experienced pain in the same hamstring earlier this season, missing 10 games in January.

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