The Boston Celtics have played 712 playoff games in their storied 76-year history, and just seven times has a Celtic player scored 50 points or more. The legendary John Havlicek holds the team record at 54 points, but in some ways Jayson Tatum’s 51-point masterpiece in Sunday’s Game 7 over the 76ers might have been the most impressive 50-pointer of all.
We’ll take a look back at all the Boston 50-pieces, but first, here are JT’s key statistics against the Sixers:
Tatum today:— StatMuse (@statmuse) May 14, 2023
51 PTS (Game 7 record)
One of the best in the world. pic.twitter.com/9vlYU1hWLd
Tatum now has eight games between 50 and 60 points on his resume. He’s the only Celtic to have a pair of 50s in the playoffs, plus he owns five in the regular season and one in the play-in tournament (which no one else has done). Since Tatum also went for 55 in this year’s All-Star Game, he’s the only player in league history to reach the half-century mark in all four categories.
The two-time All-NBA First Teamer got off to a fast start against Philadelphia and never let up. His scoring by quarter (posted in the NBA Gamebook) was 11, 14, 17 and 9. His floor shooting was highly efficient at 17-of-28 field goals and 6-of-10 threes, plus 11-of-14 free throws. When the Celtics exploded for their 33-10 third quarter, Tatum drained four-of-five from the arc, primarily after drawing MVP Joel Embiid in a switch. The Duke product crushed the Sixers’ spirit and ended the series.
In the process, Tatum also became the first Celtic player ever to tally 50-plus points, 10-plus rebounds and five-plus three-pointers in a postseason contest.
His performance earned a bit more recognition than previous notables, coming as it did in the win-or-go-home pressure of Game 7. Tatum broke the NBA Game 7 record of 50 points set by Steph Curry of Golden State in this year’s first round. The 51 also surpassed the franchise record of 47 points by Sam Jones in Game 7 versus the Cincinnati Royals (now the Sacramento Kings) in 1963.
More fun facts: The Celtics have played and won more Game 7s than any other franchise, at 27-9. The icon, Bill Russell, was famously 10-0 in Game 7s. Tatum is now 5-1.
So how does Tatum’s game compare to other half-century outbursts? Here are those details, and please note: the Celtics won all but one of these games.
John Havlicek, April 1, 1973, first round, Game 1 vs. Atlanta Hawks, 54 points
The Hall of Famer and eight-time NBA champion could run all day, score from anywhere on the court, and was as clutch as any player the NBA has ever seen. The man they called Hondo played all of his 16 seasons before the three-point era, so his 54 points were earned the old-fashioned way: on two-point midrange jumpers, runners, and fast-break layups. Havlicek scored a league-record 24 field goals (tying Wilt Chamberlain and later tied by Michael Jordan) on 36 attempts. He added six free throws, plus nine rebounds and six assists.
(Personal note: I had the good fortune to attend that game. Hondo was relentless attacking the rim and the Hawks were helpless to stop him.)
Isaiah Thomas, May 2, 2017, second round, Game 2 (OT) vs. Washington Wizards, 53 points
TD Garden has never been more electric than when The Little Guy was lighting up the scoreboard. Even so, this game topped all his others for sheer drama. He delivered on what would have been the 23rd birthday of his sister, Chyna, who had died in a tragic auto accident.
IT went 18-for-33 with five triples and 12-of-13 free throws. He added four assists and three steals. Thomas dropped 20 in the fourth quarter and nine more in overtime. His emotional performance cemented his place as a fan favorite in Boston for eternity.
Ray Allen, April 30, 2009, first round, Game 6 (3OT) at Chicago Bulls, 51 points
The Celtics lost this battle by a single point, but it wasn’t for lack of effort by the deadly three-point shooter. With Kevin Garnett injured and Paul Pierce not having a big scoring day, Allen picked up the slack by making 18-of-32 shots, including nine-of-18 threes. Ray also buried a triple with seven seconds left in the second OT to extend the wild game to the third extra period.
Sam Jones, March 28, 1967, first round, game 4 at New York Knicks, 51 points
Sam is one of the NBA’s forgotten superstars, a top-75 player who no one talks about anymore. But everyone back in the day knew #24 won 10 rings in his 12 years as the Celtics’ most clutch outside shooter. Sam’s production on this night enabled Boston to close out the best-of-five series, 3-1, in the old Madison Square Garden. In 43 minutes, he shot 19-of-30 (all twos) and was 13-of-17 at the line. His 51 set a new franchise playoff high at the time.
(I was also fortunate to attend this game, too. My most distinct memory is of watching Sam swish every pregame warmup shot, nothing but net, and knowing a big night was coming.)
Jayson Tatum, May 28, first round, Game 3 vs. Brooklyn Nets, 50 points
Not much was expected of the Celtics in this series. They were a .500 team seeded 7th, without an injured Jaylen Brown, against a loaded Nets squad. But Tatum made sure Boston wasn’t swept by sinking 16-of-30 shots with five threes and 13-of-15 FTs. He added six rebounds and seven assists, outdueling Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving.
Bob Cousy, March 21, 1953, first round, Game 2 vs. Syracuse Nationals, 50 points (4OT)
The Celtics were far from being a dynasty when they played this series versus the team that later became the 76ers. In fact, they hadn’t even won a single playoff series until the man they called the Houdini of the Hardwood stepped up.
On this night when they needed 20 extra minutes to achieve the win, Cousy posted the unusual stat line of 10-of-22 field goals and 30-of-32 at the charity stripe. Thus, Boston closed out the best-of-three series, 2-0. The Cooz was the first in the NBA to reach 50 in a playoff game, and his 30 free throws set a postseason record that still stands today. We can’t find any footage of that performance, so instead, we present Cousy’s free throw prowess in this classic scene from the film, “Blue Chips.”
Which 50-point game do you think was the most impressive? Tell us in the comments. Meanwhile, we leave you with this montage of every point scored by Tatum to send the Sixers home.