After scoring 50 points to lead the Boston Celtics past the Washington Wizards to claim the No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference, superstar forward Jayson Tatum was asked if he had any goals set for himself leading into the Play-In Game.
"Be the best player on the floor," the two-time All-Star told the media following his breakout performance.
"Do what it takes to win and be the best player on the floor."
Tatum checked both of those boxes by notching his third 50-plus-point game since the start of April, outplaying two superstars in his childhood friend Bradley Beal and former MVP Russell Westbrook.
☘️ 50 POINTS- NBA (@NBA) May 19, 2021
☘️ 32 in 2nd half
☘️ Celtics earn East #7 seed@jaytatum0's huge night guides the @celtics to #StateFarmPlayIn victory!
#7 Celtics vs. #2 Nets - #NBAPlayoffs First Round Game 1: 8:00pm/et Saturday on ABC. pic.twitter.com/bHA0j4JNQD
That 50-ball was enough to single-handedly outscore both Beal (22 points) and Westbrook (20 points) combined, as Tatum put together one of his most dynamic games of the season, going 14-for-32 from the field, 5-for-12 from 3 and a perfect 17-for-17 from the free-throw line.
Don't let the 12 3-point attempts fool you, Tatum wasn't settling for jumpers in this must-win game. He was in attack mode at all three levels all game long, leaving a Wizards' defence that had no match for him on their heels.
His dominance was undeniable, with Washington head coach Scott Brooks giving him the highest of praise after the game. "Tatum is a great player. Not a great young player. A great player," Brooks stated.
"He's going to be MVP in this league soon."
With his All-Star teammate, Jaylen Brown, sidelined for the remainder of the season after undergoing wrist surgery, it's no secret that Tatum is going to have to elevate his game to allow the Celtics to do as much damage as possible for what's left of this injury and health and safety protocol-riddled season.
But as we've seen time and time again from the 23-year-old phenom, he's more than capable of tapping into a never-before-seen level to prove his ceiling of potential is higher than we already thought.
We're talking about a player who, in his very first postseason as a rookie, led a team to the Eastern Conference Finals. Then went toe-to-toe with LeBron James in the Conference Finals for a full seven games. As a 19-year-old kid, Tatum tallied a whopping total of 351 points during that rookie playoff run - the second-most by a first-year player in NBA history, only trailing the great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar by a single point (352).
While his second season and playoffs left a lot to be desired, Tatum came back with a vengeance in his third playoff appearance, leading yet another run to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Averaging 25.7 points, 10.0 rebounds. 5.0 assists, 1.2 blocks and 1.0 steals per game, Tatum joined the elite company of Larry Bird, Charles Barkley, Kevin Garnett, Blake Griffin and LeBron James as the only players to average at least 25 points, 10 boards, five assists, a block and a steal per game in the playoffs.
When you filter those benchmarks to only players that achieved those averages while going to the Conference Finals or beyond, that list shortens to just Bird, James and Tatum.
In Year 4, Tatum began his latest playoff push with a bang. Although the Play-In Game doesn't technically count toward his playoff stats, 50 points would have been by far his playoff career-high.
In claiming the No. 7 seed, he now faces his toughest task yet in trying to carry his team past what head coach Brad Stevens called, "probably the most talented team that's been put together since I've been in the NBA," in the Brooklyn Nets.
Tatum's goal for the Play-In Game was the be the best player on a floor that included stars like Beal and Westbrook, and he accomplished that. Can he prove to be the best player on a floor that he'll share with three of the most prolific players in the NBA in Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden?
It'll be must-see-TV to watch him try.
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