Another Celtics victory was already clinched, and the only remaining suspense came in Jayson Tatum’s hands.
Tatum was at 48 points with less than a minute to go, and everyone knew it. Al Horford corralled a defensive rebound with 45 seconds left, and skipped the ball over to Tatum. As he dribbled the ball up, the Boston-friendly crowd at Charlotte’s Spectrum Center stood up, anticipating a milestone moment.
Everyone knew what was coming, and the Hornets still couldn’t stop it.
Tatum lost defender Jalen McDaniels as he pulled up for a 3-pointer. He pump-faked on a contest from LaMelo Ball, then let it fly. There was little doubt it wasn’t going in. When it did, he looked around at the cheering crowd and took a cocky walk back on defense after completing his masterpiece.
“It’s been a while since I scored 50, so I needed that one,” Tatum told NBC Sports Boston after the Celtics’ 130-118 victory.
Tatum scored a season-high 51 points – his first 50-point performance of the season and first since last Jan. 23, when he scored 51 against the Wizards – as the Celtics pulled away for their seventh consecutive win and completed a two-game sweep over the Hornets.
As the final seconds ticked off, “MVP!” chants rained down on Tatum at the Spectrum Center and Horford, raising his left hand up and down, asked for them to be louder. It was deserved. Tatum, at 24 years old, became the Celtics’ all-time leader with five 50-point games in the regular season, surpassing Larry Bird atop the list. Including the playoffs, Tatum has six career 50-point games.