Jayson Tatum emerged as a star in 2019–20 and took another leap forward this season. It was a tough season for the battered and banged-up Boston Celtics, who finished just 36–36, and Tatum was part of that, missing five games in January due to a bout with coronavirus (COVID-19). In Game 3 of the Celtics’ first-round series against the Brooklyn Nets, Tatum entered the history books in a new category.
Tatum kept Boston in the series by leading the Celtics to a 125–118 win. His 50 points shattered his playoff career high. He had scored 34 points against the Toronto Raptors in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinals last season. His 50-point game took on added historical significance. Tatum now stands alone on one list besides becoming the 30th player to hit the mark in a playoff game.
Jayson Tatum’s unique place in NBA history
Jayson Tatum has been incredibly hot of late. As the Boston Celtics have lost fellow All-Star Jaylen Brown for the season, he’s needed to be. Boston has had a gimpy Kemba Walker most of the year and had only three rotation players miss fewer than 10 games this season.
Tatum posted the first 50-point game of his career with a 53-point explosion in early April against the Minnesota Timberwolves. That topped his previous best of 40 set a little more than three months earlier. He closed April with the first 60-point effort of his career in an overtime victory over the San Antonio Spurs.
On the first night of the NBA’s first play-in tournament, Tatum helped Boston secure the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference by dropping 50 on the Washington Wizards.
Now throw in the 50-spot he hung on the Nets, and Tatum is the first player in NBA history with 50-point games in the regular-season, play-in tournament, and the playoffs.
Yes, this record comes with an asterisk
Jayson Tatum has done something no NBA player had done before. Not Michael Jordan. Not Wilt Chamberlain. Not even Boston Celtics greats such as John Havlicek or Larry Bird. However, in fairness, Tatum had the advantage of playing in the NBA’s very first play-in tournament. Neither Chamberlain nor Havlicek was ever in a historically similar position.
But Jordan could have been. Jordan played on teams seeded seventh or eighth in each of his first three seasons with the Chicago Bulls. In his final two years with the Washington Wizards, Jordan’s club finished 10th and ninth, respectively. As for Bird, he had four games with 50 points or more in the regular season, but his playoff career high was 43 points against the Detroit Pistons in 1985.
Jayson Tatum took advantage of an opportunity
Jayson Tatum might have been among the first three players with an opportunity to create the regular-season/play-in/playoffs half-a-hundred club. But unlike Russell Westbrook of the Wizards or LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers, Tatum pulled it off.
Westbrook entered the 50-point group in the regular season when he dropped 54 on the Indiana Pacers on April 12, 2015. It was the first of his five career 50-point games in the regular season. He hung 51 on the Houston Rockets in Game 2 of the first round in 2017. The Oklahoma City Thunder lost both of those games, however.
James has topped 50 points 12 times during the regular season and once in the postseason. His first 50-spot came a long time ago, his second NBA season, when he scored 56 points for the Cleveland Cavaliers in a loss to the Toronto Raptors on March 20, 2005. James had 51 points in Game 1 of the 2018 NBA Finals for the Cavs. However, the Golden State Warriors swept the series.
James is one of only six players to score at least 50 points in an NBA Finals game. The first was Bob Pettit of the St. Louis Hawks in 1958. Elgin Baylor of the Lakers joined the group in 1962, followed by Rick Barry of the then-San Francisco Warriors in 1967, and Jordan for the Bulls in 1993.
If the NBA keeps the play-in tournament around, Jayson Tatum may get some company in his lonely club. But for now, he can at least know that when he had the chance to do something new, he didn’t squander it.