CHARLOTTE – With the Boston Celtics’ National Basketball Association game at the Charlotte Hornets all but won on Monday night, Jayson Tatum, who was on 48 points, had thought of just winding down and letting the clock run out.
But he suddenly remembered a text message he received from former Brooklyn Nets guard Jamal Crawford, sent after he scored 49 points against the Miami Heat earlier this season.
“Jamal texted me after the (Heat) game and he’s like, ‘If you’re ever that close to 50, nobody is going to remember the time and score, they’re just going to report if you got 50 or not’,” Tatum said, as quoted by ESPN.
“That’s what was going through my mind. Jamal telling me if you get that close to 50, go get it.”
The forward then stepped up his game, sank a three-pointer with 38sec left and made it 51 points on the night to “MVP” cheers from the crowd, as the Celtics beat the Hornets 130-118.
It was the seventh 50-point game of Tatum’s career overall.
Two days after scoring 33 points against Charlotte on Saturday, he once again took centre stage with a commanding performance as the Eastern Conference leaders claimed a seventh straight victory.
Tatum’s three-pointer drew roars of appreciation from even the home crowd at Charlotte’s Spectrum Centre.
It was the final act of an 18-point fourth quarter from the 24-year-old, who made 15 of 23 from the field with seven three-pointers, nine rebounds and five assists.
Tatum’s career high remains a 60-point performance against San Antonio in 2021.
Monday’s tally also means he is the Celtics’ all-time leader in regular season 50-point games, surpassing franchise icon Larry Bird’s total of four.
“It’s been a while since I scored 50, so I needed that one,” he joked after the win, adding that scoring 51 points on the Martin Luther King Day holiday to honour the civil rights hero carried added meaning. “Without him, I wouldn’t be able to do what I do and live out my dream.”
Boston’s victory saw them improve to 33-12 at the top of the Eastern Conference, 4½ games clear of second-placed Brooklyn.
Tatum got scoring support from Derrick White (19 points), while Malcolm Brogdon added 16 off the bench and point guard Marcus Smart chipped in with 10.
“He makes me look like a better coach,” Celtics interim coach Joe Mazzulla said on ESPN of his star.
“He didn’t settle for shots. He got catch-and-shoots, he got off the dribbles, he got layups. The other piece of that is the humility of our team to really work with him to get those 51 points.”
Elsewhere, Milwaukee recovered from back-to-back defeats against Miami with a battling 132-119 victory over the Indiana Pacers.
Once again without Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Bucks looked to be in trouble as Indiana led by double digits in the third quarter at Milwaukee’s Fiserv Forum.
But the Bucks rallied in the fourth to outscore Indiana 39-21 to claim the win.
Jrue Holiday once again came up big for Milwaukee with a season-high 35 points.
“I think that we slowed them down just enough,” the guard said.
“They were running that first half, boy. They run fast, they shoot threes. They were pretty much getting things in the paint and getting threes at the same time.”
In the West, Ja Morant scored 29 points and Desmond Bane added 28 as Memphis routed visiting Phoenix 136-106 to extend the NBA’s longest current winning streak to 10 games.
Jaren Jackson Jr had 18 points, eight rebounds and six blocks for the Grizzlies, who outscored the Suns 68-41 in the second half. The win moved Memphis into a tie with the Denver Nuggets (30-13) atop the Western Conference standings.
Mikal Bridges tallied 21 points and seven assists to lead Phoenix (21-24), while Deandre Ayton added 18 points. The Suns have lost three straight and 12 of their past 14. AFP