This far into a season, Game #53 can often be a sleepwalk. Contenders hit cruise control and play for health more so than seeding. Lottery teams are thinking more about tanking than they are digging out wins. But for Boston, these games are critical. Sitting at .500 with a chance to close out their seven-game homestand with a winning record, beating the visiting Timberwolves on a random Friday night in April was a priority.
However, three minutes into the third quarter, Minnesota had built a 17-point lead and it was looking like the Celtics were going to get blown off the parquet by the league’s worst team.
And then Jayson Tatum happened.
“It was a lot like what I recall about Isaiah (Thomas) on so many occasions. He just would let us lose. Tatum was like that. When we were coming back in the third, you could see he had it,” Brad Stevens said after Tatum scored 17 of his career-high 53 points in the third quarter.
IT famously dropped an identical 53 points in Game 2 against the Washington Wizards back in 2017. That iconic game was on his late sister’s birthday who had tragically died a few days earlier in a car accident. Where Tatum and IT might differ is in their on court persona. Thomas was an emotional and boisterous leader. Tatum, on the other hand, is more reserved and quietly confident. But as Stevens warns, don’t let that collected coolness fool you.
“Don’t mistake his quiet demeanor for not being a competitor. He is a competitor.”
“I know I’m not the loudest or most talkative or show the most emotion — that’s just kind of my demeanor,” Tatum said. “But anybody that has coached me or any teammate I’ve ever had, they know any given day I’ll go to war with any of them.”
A regular season game against Minnesota isn’t exactly the theater for these dramatic heroics, but necessary nonetheless. In total, Tatum was 16-for-25 from the floor, including 6-of-10 from behind the arc. However, it was his career-high sixteen trips to the line (hitting 15) that really showed his growth as this season has progressed. That’s what superstars do. Tatum attributes “attacking the hoop a little bit more and knowing the situation as far as the bonus and taking advantage of it” for his recent rise in trips to the charity stripe. After averaging just three free throws per game in December, Tatum has nearly doubled his April totals to 5.6.
Every bucket from JT's 53-point night. pic.twitter.com/K0QyMDFe76— Celtics on NBC Sports Boston (@NBCSCeltics) April 10, 2021
“Scoring 50 is a big thing in this league and especially at this age. It’ll be a night I will always remember,” Tatum said. “First 50-point game and we got the win on top of that. Big win. Every win right now is big.”
Tatum is now averaging 25.7 points in his fourth season on 46/38/87 splits.
Tatum’s only lament was that his son, Deuce, wasn’t in The Garden to see it. “He called me after the game and said congrats,” he said. “I guess that means I have to do it again one day.”
Might be time to become a season ticket holder, Deuce.