Tatum Continues Historic Stretch with 50-Point Play-In Performance

Over the past month and a half, Jayson Tatum has been on a high-volume scoring tear, the likes of which no Celtics player has ever experienced.

On April 9, the 23-year-old became the youngest player in franchise history to reach the 50-point mark, as he poured in 53 during an overtime win over the Minnesota Timberwolves.

On April 30, he tied Larry Bird’s franchise record with 60 points during a 32-point comeback overtime win against the San Antonio Spurs.

And on Tuesday night, he logged his first 50-point game in regulation, as he hit the half-century mark right on the head while leading the Celtics to a 118-100 play-in tournament win over the Washington Wizards to secure the East’s seventh seed in the playoffs.

Prior to 2021, no Celtics player had ever logged more than one 50-point game in the same calendar year. Now, Tatum has accomplished that feat three times over the course of a 39-day span.

To add further context to his achievement, there is no player in the NBA who has logged more 50-point games this season than Tatum; not even scoring champion Steph Curry, or Eastern Conference scoring champ Bradley Beal.

Though Beal is not the least bit shocked by Tatum’s recent surge, having monitored his development since their childhood days growing up in St. Louis.

"He's a special talent, man," said Beal, who scored 22 points during Tuesday’s play-in battle. "And I've been saying it since he was in diapers, so it doesn't surprise me."

Tatum still isn’t far removed from those diaper days, being just 23 years old, but he is displaying both poise and skill well beyond his years. That’s why Wizards coach Scott Brooks believes Tatum is not far from achieving the NBA’s highest individual honor.

"He's a great player," Brooks said. "He's not a great young player, he's a great player. And he's gonna be an MVP in this league soon."

That three-letter acronym isn’t thrown around lightly by NBA coaches or players, but Brooks, who has coached three MVP-winning players in Kevin Durant, James Harden and Russell Westbrook, wasn’t alone in his thoughts Tuesday night.

“Mhmm, he’s right about that,” Kemba Walker agreed. “It ain’t new to me. I’ve been watching this guy put in this kind of work over the last year or so, year or two. So I’m here for the ride. It’s fun. It’s always exciting to see him go off the way he goes off.”

What makes Tatum’s recent success even more impressive is how he’s less than four months removed from a serious battle with COVID-19. The virus left Tatum dealing with respiratory issues that he is still working through to this day. However, he is continuing to make progress by fighting through the challenge with his head held high. And he proved that once again Tuesday night while shooting 14-of-32 from the field, 5-of-12 from 3-point range, and a perfect 17-for-17 from the free-throw line during 41 minutes of action.

“I’m proud of myself,” Tatum said of his resilience. “I've been trying to get back to full strength. Obviously, it took me some time and it's hard to understand what it's like to come back from something like that and get back to yourself without having it, without being an athlete. It's a process, and I guess you can say I came a long way.”

“Came a long way” may be an understatement considering how well Tatum has played of late. Since April 1, no other player in the Eastern Conference has scored more points than Tatum, and only Beal has had a higher scoring average. He’s also in the midst of the most impressive high-volume scoring stretch in Celtics history – a stretch that his teammates hope he can carry into the Playoffs.

“It’s always exciting to see him go off the way he goes off,” said Walker, who went off for 29 points of his own Tuesday night. “And we’re going to need that from him throughout this whole run.”

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