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Jayson Tatum: ‘51 is big, but we played as a team’

After a big performance against the Hornets, the Celtics MVP candidate instead focused on what the Celtics have done right during their seven-game win streak.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Charlotte Hornets Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

The Boston Celtics rattled off their seventh straight win on Monday with a 130-118 victory over the Charlotte Hornets, but extending the win streak wasn’t the main storyline that day. Jayson Tatum had an MVP-caliber performance against the Hornets with a commanding 51 points on 15-of-23 shooting, including 7-of-12 from three along with 9 rebounds and 5 assists. Tatum’s monster performance has further cemented his name in the MVP conversation, as well as the history books.

With his game on Monday, Jayson Tatum passed Larry Bird for the most 50+ point performances in Celtics Franchise history, and tied Kobe Bryant for the most 50+ point games before the age of 25. In what was a solid win for Boston, Tatum continued to display his generational talents, and did so without running mate Jaylen Brown by his side; Brown is still sidelined with an adductor strain.

“I think I’ve been on record, Charlotte has always been one of my favorite places to play on the road,” said Tatum after hearing MVP chants rain down on him from the crowd at Spectrum Center. “Just from the crowd and the atmosphere, being in North Carolina for a year [when I attended Duke]. Obviously, you see a lot of Celtics jerseys, but I see a lot of Duke jerseys as well. So coming home and feeling that support, it’s kind of like my second home. I always love coming back here and playing.”

Tatum has established himself in franchise history as well as the hierarchy of the NBA, and has built a legitimate argument for MVP this season. He had come close to breaking Bird’s record earlier this season against the Miami Heat, where he netted 49 points but took his foot off the gas with less than a minute left. In his postgame interview after the win over the Hornets, Tatum revealed someone had reached out to him after that game specifically.

“The thing that was going through my mind was when I had 49 against the Heat earlier this season. I took a shot and we got the ball back, but it was like 50 seconds left, and I remember...I just waved them off. I didn’t go get the ball. Jamal Crawford texted me after the game, and he was like ‘Man, if you’re ever that close to 50, nobody’s gonna remember time and score, they’re just gonna record if you have 50 or not.’”

So, when Tatum got that close against Charlotte, he refused to let the opportunity slide past him again. “So when Al got that rebound and I was dribbling up the court, that’s what was going through my mind,” said Tatum, “Jamal telling me ‘If you’re that close to 50, go get it’, so when I had the ball and was dribbling up the court, I was very aware.”

While Tatum had a great individual game, it was the Celtics offense and passing that shone through in the win, with their ability to create offense for each other that drove the win home. The Celtics totaled 34 assists on the afternoon, in addition to shooting 46.5% from beyond the arc. Boston’s ball movement and shot creation were on another level, and Tatum was at the heart of it.

“Obviously, 51 is big, but we played as a team,” said Tatum. “I think that’s what’s been really big for us these six or seven games that we’ve been winning. We’ve just been able to get the shots that we want and not let the defense dictate us on offense.” That was a major critique of last year’s team to start the year, and there were some shades of that same trend during the early running of this season as well.

The Celtics will face another big test on Thursday night after two days off, as they return to TD Garden to welcome the Golden State Warriors to town. This will be the second time the two teams will face off after the Celtics were run off the floor against the Warriors on the road in December.

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