Jamal Crawford admits he doesn’t reach out to his younger brethren when they’re faring well. He leaves them alone. When the three-time NBA Sixth Man of the Year notices a shortcoming, he quickly texts.
Crawford and fellow television analyst Candace Parker were watching the Celtics close out a 134-121 win over the Miami Heat on Nov. 30 at TD Garden when Jayson Tatum passed up an opportunity to go for 50 points. The Celtics had the ball with 24 seconds left after he hit two technical free throws.
Marcus Smart dribbled the ball near the halfcourt line with Tatum standing nearly the left corner, in front of the Heat bench. Al Horford cut from the left elbow toward the paint to give Smart a clean passing lane to Tatum. But Tatum waved Smart off, shaking his head, indicating he did not want to go for 50 in the final possession of a 13-point game. He didn’t want to chase numbers.
Crawford said he texted Tatum later that evening, telling him never to pass up an opportunity for history. Only the critics and haters will recognize that it came in a game that was already decided. On March 12, 1985, Larry Bird drained a jumper at the buzzer that gave him a Celtics-record 60 points in a 126-115 win over the Atlanta Hawks in New Orleans. Nobody mentions that No. 60 came on the final shot of an 11-point win.
Tatum digested Crawford’s words Monday when he swished a 3-pointer that gave him 51 with 38 seconds left to give the Celtics a 16-point lead in what ended as a 130-118 victory. It was Tatum’s fifth game of 50 or more points in the regular season, breaking Bird’s team record. Shortly after the game, Tatum texted Crawford, telling him. “I did it. I went for it.”
“Being a player I look at everything,” Crawford told the Globe on Tuesday. “Jayson’s a competitor, a winner. He was so close to 50 (in November) and you could see he wanted it as a competitor and being that close to it, it’s not like it happens every single day, especially for an individual.
“That fact that he was that close and he was like, ‘Nah, go away from me,’ and I’m telling him as a guy who played a long time, when you look back at your career, and it’s over and we look at all these numbers and the history of the game when they attach certain things to do, they stick with you forever.”
Crawford is known as one of the best reserve players of all time and one of the more prolific scorers of his generation. He scored 50 or more points three times in his career, including April 9, 2019, when he tallied 51 for the Phoenix Suns at age 39.
“There’s something magical about that 50, so if I’m that close, go for it,” Crawford said. “That’s what I was putting in perspective and he was like, ‘you’re right, I agree.’ As fate would have it, here we are, two months later and the same situation happens and that was in the back of his head and I’m thankful because when you look who he’s on the list with for youngest guys to have that many 50-point games, it’s his hero, Kobe Bryant.”
Bryant finished third all-time with 25 50-point games behind Wilt Chamberlain (118) and Michael Jordan (31).
Crawford said he’s been impressed with how Tatum has developed as not only a scorer but a passer. Tatum has sharpened his offensive arsenal to become one of the game’s premier scorers. He was third in the NBA in points per game at 31.1 entering Tuesday behind Luka Doncic (33.8) and Joel Embiid(33.4).
“His offensive weapons are so incredible, so polarizing,” Crawford said. “Because he can do everything. You can’t look at J and say, if he would do this better he would score more. He can run the pick-and-roll, he can play off the post, he can play the triple threat, he can catch and shoot, he can set screens, he can handle the ball.
“The fact of how easy it’s become because now it’s just in the flow you can’t take anything away. He’s making all the right reads. He’s making his teammates better. I always say the more you pass, the easier it is to score because the defense can’t just key in on one thing.”
Crawford said he connected with Tatum at Crawford’s Seattle Pro-Am tournament this summer when Tatum made his first-ever trip to Seattle to play in the exhibition. They have consistently talked since.
“I always think OGs are important as well, just to give knowledge to the next generation, especially to the ones who want to get that knowledge and want to get better,” Crawford said. “He’s so fun to watch and he’s an unbelievable young man as well.
“He may not say it, but J has pretty much mastered how to get 30 points. As hard as it is, he can get to that because there’s a rhythm, a format, a blueprint. That’s where consistency comes from, just get lost in the game.”
Tatum is six weeks from his 25th birthday but already 15th on the Celtics’ all-time scoring list with a chance to reach the 10,000-point mark late this season. He is making history in front of our eyes and taking heed and advice from those who have come before him about how to reach greatness.
“Imagine how much better he’ll be in a year, two years,” Crawford said. “It may not be a dramatic thing. It may be the reads he’s making. The nuances of the game. When he got 50, we were on the same wavelength. He said, ‘Yo, I just talked about you in my press conference.’ It was still on his mind but it was on my mind as well.”