Throughout the past week, it may have seemed to the casual NBA fan as though there were a lot more incredible scoring performances than usual. And that’s because this is true. In March, there have been eight games so far where 50 or more points have been scored, including two 60-point performances. The last time there have been this many high scoring performances in a month was in 1962. In 1962, the pace of the NBA was notably faster (leading to more points), and some guy named Wilt Chamberlain was stuffing the stat sheet.
However, even more impressive than eight 50-point games in one month is that they’ve happened within the first two weeks of the month. The streak started as LeBron James dropped 56 points against the Golden State Warriors, looking like his old, dominant self. The next day, Boston and Brooklyn met, with Kevin Durant scoring 37 points. However, Jayson Tatum got the better of the matchup, as he dropped 54. Two days later, on March 8th, Kyrie Irving dropped 50 points in a road win against the Charlotte Hornets. That Friday, on March 11th, James dropped 50 points again, this time on Kristaps Porzingis and the Washington Wizards. On Sunday, March 13th, Durant dropped 53 points against Julius Randle and the New York Knicks.
On Monday, Karl-Anthony Towns dropped 60 points, a career high, franchise high, and record for the season. However, the record would soon be shared with Irving, who dropped 60 the next night, with 41 points coming in the first half (Deron Williams is the only other player in NBA history to score 40 points in a half). And of course, we have our latest addition, with Detroit Pistons forward Saddiq Bey coming out of nowhere and dropping a career-high 51 points.
So far, in this crazy month of March, here are our totals:
LeBron James: 2 50-point games (vs. Warriors, Wizards)
Jayson Tatum: 1 50-point game (vs. Nets)
Kevin Durant: 1 50-point game (vs. Knicks)
Kyrie Irving: 1 50-point game, 1 60-point game (vs. Hornets, Magic)
Karl Anthony-Towns: 1 60-point game (vs. Spurs)
Saddiq Bey: 1 50-point game (vs. Magic)
And all of this in two and a half weeks. If we go back another week, we could also include Ja Morant‘s career-high against the San Antonio Spurs, when he went for 52.
There have been three months in NBA history with scoring performances like these. August of 2020 had seven 50-point games, which were all in the Disney bubble. There were also seven 50-point games in March of 2019. However, the most 50-point games in a month stretches across 60 years of NBA basketball, until we come to December of 1962. There were nine 50-point games that month, with six coming from Wilt Chamberlain and three from Elgin Baylor. Chamberlain was the father of 50-point games, as in October of 1962, he had 8 50-point games all by himself. December of 1961 was the record, as 19 50-point games were recorded.
There have been a total of 17 50-point games this season, the 3rd most since 2000. Yet, nearly half of those performances have come within this 11-day span. After a slow start to the season in which players (notably Harden, Trae Young, and Damian Lillard) had trouble adjusting to the new foul rules, we are scoring at a much higher rate.
“I feel like any time I touch the ball, I’m unstoppable.”Karl-Anthony Towns
“As you see across the league, guys are just putting up crazy numbers.”Kyrie Irving
However, when we look a little bit closer, these types of scoring performances aren’t as uncommon as you might think. Look back to that list of 50-point games. I’ll wait.
You’re back? Good.
Did you notice who these players have been dropping 50 on? It’s been each team’s biggest rivals, or teams that are clearly out of the playoff race, and are jockeying for lottery positions. The Orlando Magic have a bright future, but right now, their core group consists of Franz Wagner, Jalen Suggs, Mo Bamba, Cole Anthony, and Jonathan Isaac, who hasn’t played in over a year. Don’t tell me you’re surprised that Irving dropped 60 on them. It’s a little bit more surprising that Bey was able to drop 50 on them, but he’s a talented player. Bey is averaging 16.4 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 2.9 assists on 40% from the field, and against the Magic, he was being guarded by the likes of Wagner and RJ Hampton. They actually did a decent job; but when Bey got hot from three, there was literally nothing you could do to stop him.
Let’s look at LeBron’s 50-point games. One of them came against the Washington Wizards, who we know aren’t making any playoff noise. Maybe if they had Bradley Beal they’d have a chance to be competitive, as their roster is decent with former All-Star Kristaps Porziņģis, Kyle Kuzma, and returning veterans like Ish Smith and Tomas Satoransky. But in the meantime, they aren’t scaring anyone, and it’s no surprise LeBron feasted on the Wizards defense. However, LeBron’s 60-point game came against the Golden State Warriors, who’s franchise has been locked in a rivalry with LeBron since 2015. As the Lakers need to win every game possible just to stay in the play-in, it makes sense that he would score as much as he possibly could.
Towns and Morant’s career-highs both came against the San Antonio Spurs, who haven’t been having the best season. A franchise historically blessed with some of the best talent, such as Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, Kawhi Leonard, and Tim Duncan, has now been passed to Dejounte Murray. DeMar DeRozan left the team this offseason, and the Spurs don’t really have an identity. If they get a top pick in the draft, I’m sure that will change; but are we really surprised that Towns dropped 60 points on Jakob Poeltl?
If we look at Tatum’s 50-point game, it came while facing the Brooklyn Nets, another wonderful event because Irving was back in town. The Celtics’ fans wanted the Nets to lose and Irving to play badly, and Tatum helped them achieve that goal. As I heard on one basketball show, you can’t drop 50 points in an NBA game by accident. It’s something you have to be actively trying to do, and Tatum did it.
Durant’s 50 points came against Julius Randle and the New York Knicks, a crosstown rival. It’s weird to think that the Nets, THE NETS that we all had as championship contenders, are now in the NBA play-in. They, just like their counterpart Lakers in the West, need to win every game. However, the Nets have accomplished what some wanted them to; not gain home court advantage so they could have Irving for 4 out of 7 games in a playoff series.
Plus, how crazy is it that as a part time basketball player, Irving is averaging 44 points per game? Look at this stat sheet below, and tell me if you’ve ever seen anything like it. Actually, let me answer that for you: you haven’t.
I also don’t doubt that some of these performances are coming from stars trying to one-up each other. Morant set off this chain where he scored 52 points, and after that, everyone’s been trying to one-up each other. For all the 50-point games, there have been a lot of scoring performances that’ve gotten close, but just missed the cut. In his first game reunited with Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, birthday boy Stephen Curry dropped 47 points. Jordan Clarkson dropped 45 points off the bench for the Utah Jazz. Trae Young dropped 47 points against the Indiana Pacers; and the next night 46 against the Portland Trail Blazers! Of the 25 best scoring performances in the NBA this year, 10 of them have come in March, per statmuse.com.
So, what’s the point of knowing this?
For one, it’s cool. Unless you’re one of the dinosaurs who saw Wilt Chamberlain play in-person, you’re witnessing history. Given how the new foul rules affected the NBA at the start of the season, there were less 50-point performances than ever. Now, you can tune into a Pistons-Magic came and see some *ahem* “Magic” happen.
Too much? Ok.
It’s easy to get lost in all the excitement of March Madness. But don’t lose sight of the NBA, because these performances could change the standings in the NBA so that your favorite prospect ends up with a different team. We’re witnessing history.
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