Jayson Tatum’s 8th 45-Point Game Unveils a Bill Russell Shocker

Bill Russell

Getty Jayson Tatum scored 45 points for the eighth time in the regular season, triggering a surprising stat about Bill Russell.

Jayson Tatum and the Boston Celtics turned things up down the stretch against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday, January 10. Tatum scored 26 of his 45 points in the fourth quarter and overtime in Boston’s record-setting 127-120 overtime victory.

The win was the 18th straight at home for Boston, setting a franchise record. Tatum’s scoring outburst was the eighth time he hit 45 points in his career in a regular-season game. It’s just the 43rd time in Celtics history that a player reached 45. Larry Bird has done it 19 times. Shockingly, Bill Russell isn’t on the list. In fact, he never hit 40 in his career.

Jayson Tatum’s 45-Point Effort is 8 More than Bill Russell’s Career High

Celtics radio play-by-play announcer Sean Grande posted a list of the players on X who have scored 45 or more points in team history during the regular season. Tatum’s eight 45-point outings lands him second to Bird on Boston’s all-time list. In third place is Paul Pierce, who had four in his illustrious career.

Antoine Walker and Jaylen Brown each have done it twice. Eight players — Ed Macaulay, Bob Cousy, Tommy Heinsohn, Sam Jones, Kevin McHale, Danny Ainge, Isaiah Thomas, and Kyrie Irving — have all done it once.

Notably missing from that list is Russell.

Russell was a five-time MVP and an 11-time champion. May believe he was the best player in Celtics history. The fact Russell isn’t on that was surprising, but what was shocking was that his career-high scoring game was 37 points.

“And I was today years old when I learned Bill Russell’s career-high was 37,” Grande wrote on X.

According to StatMuse, Russell hit the 37-point scoring mark twice in his career, once on March 5, 1961 against the Philadelphia Warriors, and then again on December 17, 1967 against the Los Angeles Lakers.

Russell Was Best Known for His Defensive Mindset

While Russell goes down as one of the best players in Celtics history, it doesn’t mean he was an explosive offensive player.

Russell helped reshape the NBA with his defense-first outlook.

The 6-foot-10 center out of San Francisco played 13 seasons with the Celtics and was more known for his rebounding a blocked shots. He also spent plenty of time studying the game from a defensive perspective, and he once said that playing defense was a psychological game within the game.

“Basketball is a game that involves a great deal of psychology,” Russell said during the early part of the 1963 season, according to Sports Illustrated. “The psychology in defense is not blocking a shot or stealing a pass or getting the ball away. The psychology is to make the offensive team deviate from their normal habits. This is a game of habits, and the player with the most consistent habits is the best. What I try to do on defense is to make the offensive man do not what he wants but what I want.”

Russell believed offense was overrated.

“In my modest opinion,” said Russell, “shooting is of relatively little importance in a player’s overall game. Almost all of us in the NBA are All-Americas. We became All-Americas by averaging 20 points or more a game, so by the layman’s standards, all of us can shoot. It’s the other phases of the game that make the difference.”

In his career, Russell led the NBA in rebounding (average per game) five times, including his first three seasons in the NBA. He averaged 22.5 rebounds per game in his 13 seasons. While he was an explosive shot-blocker, blocked shots didn’t become an official NBA stat until the 1973-74 season.

Offensively, Russell was limited. He averaged 15.1 points for his career and shot just 56% from the free-throw line. Still, as dominant as Russell was, it’s surprising he never scored more than 37 points in any one NBA game.

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