Jayson Tatum raises his hands after scoring 51 points in DC

Tatum Erupts for 51, Dominates Like Never Before in Win over Wiz

Jayson Tatum has never played better offensively than he did Sunday afternoon against the Washington Wizards.

That’s saying a lot for a guy who had already logged a 60-point game during his NBA career.

Tatum, who entered the arena wearing a sweatshirt that read “BELIEVE IN YOURSELF,” was an unstoppable force while scoring a season-high 51 points against the Wizards. He shot 64.3 percent both from the field and from beyond the 3-point arc while also tying for the game high in assists with seven. He also found a way to tie for the game’s top rebounding mark with 10 boards.

The only thing that prevented Tatum from surpassing his previous career high of 60 points was the fact that Boston only needed him to play 32-plus minutes of action on the afternoon. Last April, when he scored 60 against San Antonio, Tatum needed 45-plus minutes of playing time and an overtime session to tie Larry Bird for the top single-game scoring performance in Celtics history.

Moments after his red-hot performance, Tatum was asked by NBC Sports Boston’s Abby Chin was his mindset was coming into the contest. He smiled and ended his answer by saying, “When you’re in that zone, the basket seems as big as this arena. It’s a hell of a feeling.”

And while some may believe that Tatum knew he’d find that feeling against Washington given his clothing choice for the afternoon, he laughed and put that thought to bed after the game.

“No, I did not,” he said after being asked if he wore the sweatshirt on purpose. “But, It was very fitting for the occasion.”

It certainly was, as Tatum played with great belief in himself from the opening tip of Sunday’s matchup against his good friend Bradley Beal.

Tatum scored or assisted on Boston’s first nine points of the afternoon, which set the tone for what was to come over the next two-plus hours of action. He went on to score 13 points during the first quarter, 18 during the second quarter, 17 during the third quarter, and three more during his brief stretch of action in the fourth quarter. He shot 18-for-28 from the field on the afternoon and set a new career high with nine made 3-pointers.

Tatum was unquestionably the main reason why Boston dominated this game. The C’s owned a 15-point advantage at halftime thanks to his 31 points and four assists, and they pulled ahead by as many as 32 points during the second half before finishing with a 116-87 victory.

After the game, Tatum and Beal had a moment to catch up on the court. Beal had an important message to relay to his young buddy from St. Louis.

“It’s the second time I scored 50 on them,” Tatum recalled of the conversation, “and he just told me he was tired of it.”

The Celtics and their fan base, meanwhile, can’t get enough of it. Such is especially true given Tatum’s recent stretch of shooting struggles.

Tatum came into Sunday’s game having missed his previous 20 attempts from beyond the 3-point arc, and he was also shooting career-worsts of 41.6 percent from the field and 31.1 percent from 3-point range. He was well-aware of his recent struggles, but as his sweatshirt suggested, he never lost faith in himself.

“Obviously I know and everybody knows I haven’t been shooting the ball well lately, but that never discouraged me,” Tatum also said during his walk-off interview. He later added during his postgame press conference, “I’m always the same person whether I miss 20 straight or whether I score 51. It’s just on to the next one, and it’s as simple as that.”

That mature mindset has helped Tatum to navigate the good and the bad of NBA hoops and become one of the most dangerous scorers the league has to offer, regardless of his overall shooting percentages. Sunday’s performance marked his third effort of at least 41 points this season. He is one of only five players, along with Giannis Antetokounmpo, Stephen Curry, Joel Embiid and Trae Young, to have eclipsed 41 points at least three times this season.

Sunday’s 51-point outburst was by far the most impressive of the bunch. Tatum was dominant in every facet of the game, and it may just serve as the performance that will ignite him and the Celtics for the remainder of the season.

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