As the rest of the basketball world tried to dissect what was wrong with Jayson Tatum’s shot – and what it would take for him to break out of his head-scratching slump – Tatum didn’t seem overly concerned or discouraged.
“You put too much work in to doubt yourself,” he said Friday after extending his streak of missed 3-pointers to 20 in a row. “There’s always the next game.”
His mindset paid dividends, as that next game yielded a spectacular 51-point performance in a 116-87 win over the Wizards on Sunday. He shot 18-of-28 from the floor, 9-for-14 from 3-point range, and 6-for-6 from the line, also sprinkling in 10 rebounds and seven assists (with only one turnover) in one of the most complete all-around games of his career.
“Sometimes you’ve gotta laugh it off,” Tatum said afterward.
It was Tatum’s first 50-piece of the season and the third of his career, which puts him just one behind Larry Bird for most in franchise history. It was also the Celtics’ second of the month, as Jaylen Brown erupted for 50 against the Magic just a few weeks prior.
There are 12 total 50-plus-point games in the regular season in Celtics history, per StatMuse. Here’s a look back at all of them and how this one stacks up statistically.
Larry Bird (4)
One of the best games of Bird’s career came on March 12, 1985, when he exploded for 60 points on 22-of-36 shooting from the field and 15-of-16 from the line. Bird mixed in his usual assortment of runners, leaners, floaters, layups, and fall-aways, and he hit a jumper at the buzzer to reach 60 – the Celtics’ record, which Tatum tied last year. The performance was so pure that even the Hawks oohhed and aahhed – and occasionally fell over – from the bench.
Bird also dropped 53 against the Pacers in 1983, 50 against the Mavericks in 1986, and 50 against the Hawks in 1989. He played just 33 minutes in the Pacers game, hit four 3-pointers in the Mavericks game (which was a lot back then) and added 13 rebounds and seven assists in the Hawks game.
Jayson Tatum (3)
Tatum’s first such game came on April 9, 2021, when he poured in 53 and shot 16-of-25 from the floor and 15-of-16 from the line against the Timberwolves.
He then matched Bird three weeks later, hitting 20 field goals and not turning the ball over in a spectacular 143-140 overtime win over the Spurs. The Celtics erased a 32-point deficit in one of the more captivating games in recent memory.
“This went from the worst game of the year to the best game of the year,” NBC Sports Boston’s Brian Scalabrine said at the time.
Let’s not compare Brown’s and Tatum’s 50-point games or analyze whose was more important to the Celtics. Let’s just appreciate them for what they each were.
Brown scored 21 points in the fourth quarter against the Magic, willing the Celtics to a gritty win. He was 19-of-29 from the field, 5-of-10 from 3, and 7-of-8 from the line, helping the Celtics outscore Orlando 35-23 in the fourth and 11-6 in overtime. Brown became the fourth Celtic to record 50-plus points and 10-plus rebounds in a game.
Perhaps the most memorable game on the list – along with the 60-point performances, of course –came when Isaiah Thomas put up 52 against the Heat on Dec. 30, 2016. A whopping 29 of those 52 points came in the fourth quarter, which placed him behind only Wilt Chamberlain for most points in a fourth quarter (31). That came in Chamberlain’s 100-point game, so Thomas is excused for not taking first on the list.
Thomas, who earned the moniker “The King of the Fourth” right around that time, lived up to that reputation and then some, as the Celtics found a way at TD Garden. He reached 50 on a ridiculously deep 3 in the final minute that sent Tommy Heinsohn into a frenzy. Thomas had no assists in the game, but his teammates didn’t seem to mind.
“It doesn’t seem real, and they wanted me to keep going,” Thomas said. “That’s what’s great about these teammates. They wanted me to get 50. Jae [Crowder] even wanted me to get 60. I don’t know how I was going to do that, but it says a lot about those guys.”
In an epic duel, Pierce (50) outscored LeBron James (43), but the Cavaliers prevailed, 113-109, in double overtime. Pierce shot 17-of-36 from the floor and 16-of-20 from the line, also adding eight assists and seven boards before fouling out.
On March 3, 1985, just nine days before Bird’s 60-point game, McHale dropped 56 on the Pistons. He added 16 rebounds and three blocks, stuffing the stat sheet while shooting 22-of-28 from the floor in a 138-129 victory.
Bird added a triple-double, with 30 points, 15 rebounds and 10 assists, and Robert Parish scored 20 in a fast-paced, dizzying affair.
The first 50-point game in Celtics history belongs to Jones, who scored 51 on 21-of-35 shooting. Bill Russell’s 33 rebounds didn’t hurt, either, but the Celtics lost to the Pistons.