With a 51-point effort against the Charlotte Hornets, Tatum passed Larry Bird for the most 50-point games in Celtics history. The tally marked the fifth 50-point game of his career. Bird reached the mark four times, including a career-high 60 points in a 1985 game against the Atlanta Hawks.
Tatum reached the mark with a 3-pointer from the wing in the final minute of Boston's 130-118 win.
The 3-pointer was his seventh of the day on 12 attempts (58.3%). He finished with 51 points, nine rebounds and five assists, while shooting an efficient 15 of 23 from the floor. After the game, he honored Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on the holiday celebrating the civil rights icon.
"We are all blessed and honored to be able to play and represent Dr. King and his legacy, his family," Tatum said. "In many ways, without him, I wouldn't be able to do what I do and live out my dream."
He also sneaked in a quick brag on his multitude of 50-point performances.
"It's been a while since I scored 50," Tatum added. "So I needed that one."
What does Tatum's 51-point game mean?
Tatum has emerged from a perennial All-Star into a leading MVP candidate this season, his sixth in the NBA. Fresh off of leading the Celtics to last season's NBA Finals, he's averaged a career-high 30.6 points and 8.2 rebounds while adding 4.3 assists and one steal per game. His Celtics have the best record in the NBA at 33-12 and led the second-place Brooklyn Nets by 4.5 games after Monday's win.
The 50-point effort was Tatum's first of the season after he scored 54 and 51 in games last season and 50 and a career-high 60 during the 2020-21 campaign.
While Tatum, 24, is on pace to crush Bird's mark of 50-point games as long as he remains a Celtic, he's doing so in an era where 50-point games are much more commonplace than when Bird played. From 1980-90, the NBA saw a total of 66 50-point performances. As the game's trended toward efficiency alongside the embrace of the 3-point shot, 49 players have now posted 50-plus points since 2020.
For example, Tatum's already long surpassed Bird's career total of 649 made 3-pointers. With his seven on Monday, Tatum's career tally reached 969.
The modern game is vastly different from NBA basketball of the 1980s. And Tatum's on the leading edge of the game's advances as one of the most prolific scorers and players in the league.