NBA Hoopers of the Week 04.26-05.02
This was truly a big week in the world of the NBA. Teams are constantly jockeying for playoff position with less than ten games left in the regular season. Players are starting to put their final stamps on the season in hopes of earning an NBA award or being name to one of the three All-NBA teams. But most of all, we got a handful of historic performances that really displayed the bright future ahead for the NBA with its new crop of ascending superstars. Two of these performances came at the hands of Jayson Tatum and Luka Doncic who both had nights that will go down in the record books. That is why they are my honorary Hoopers of the Week! Let’s get into it!
Starting with the two-time All-Star out of the Eastern Conference, Jayson Tatum missed the start of the week but ramped things up in a hurry as the week progressed. After missing a Tuesday matchup in which the Boston Celtics fell to the Oklahoma City Thunder 119-115, Tatum came out swinging the rest of the week to help his team win their next two games.
It started with Tatum’s first game of the week Wednesday night against the Charlotte Hornets. Tatum dropped a whopping 35 points, eight rebounds, and eight assists. He was pretty impressive in terms of efficiency scoring the ball, shooting 12-of-23 from the floor, hitting four threes, and converting 4-of-8 from the free-throw line. Although, when looking back at the game an argument could be made that Jaylen Brown was the Player of the Game in this one. Brown had 38 points and seven rebounds while hit 7-of-13 threes. Nonetheless, the J & J connection went off against the Hornets get them back in the winning column.
Next up was probably one of the most exciting basketball games of the season and Tatum had his fingerprints all over it. In a 143-140 barn burner that went to overtime, Tatum dropped a career-high 60 points to help lead his team to victory. His 60 points would be crucial because the Celtics went into halftime down 77-48 and were down at one point as much as 32 points. On 20-of-37 shooting from the floor, 5-of-7 from three, and an insane 15-of-17 from the line, Tatum single-handedly rallied them back. This was the biggest comeback by a team in over a decade. The last we saw of anything resembling this was all the way back in 2009 when the Sacramento Kings came back from down 35 to beat the Chicago Bulls. This was also the third-biggest comeback in the past 25 years.
Then to put the cherry on top, 60 points ties the franchise-record set by Larry “Legend” Bird himself who is arguably one of the best to ever put on a Celtics uniform. Most would even argue he was one of the Top-20 best players to ever play the game. So, Tatum surely did put himself in good company as he looks to help his team build momentum heading into the postseason.
Looking at Tatum’s season in its totality, he is averaging career-highs across the board – 26.4 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 4.4 assists per game while shooting 45.8% from the field and 38.8% from beyond the arc. If you watch him play, you can see that he continues to grow as the dominant alpha scorer he was projected to become, and it shows in the shooting splits. A career-high 20.7 shot attempts a night. 7.5 threes a game are also a career-high. Even his free throw attempts and percentage are up (87.0% on 5.3 attempts) which is only more indicative of his increased aggression as a scoring threat.
We all understand that this has been a down year record-wise for Boston who sits at 6th place in the standings with a record of 34-30, but between dealing with Covid issues early in the season and their struggles with bench production, Tatum is one of the few glimmering hopes that is keeping the Celtics’ NBA title hopes alive.
Moving onto another two-time All-Star, Luka Doncic has been on a tear all season and this week was no different.
Kicking off the week, Doncic was a bit slow to the party in his Monday night matchup against the Sacramento Kings as the Dallas Mavericks fell 106-113. Doncic had 24 points, eight rebounds, and eight assists on the night but the shooting splits were lackluster, to say the least – 8-of-20 from the floor, 4-of-12 from three, and 4-of-6 from the free-throw line. In spite of a tough shooting night for Doncic, Tim Hardaway and Trey Burke both were relatively impressive with 19 points apiece. It should be noted that Kristaps Porzingis was not active in this one.
Next up was their game against the Golden State Warriors which was the perfect moral boost for a Mavericks team that desperately needs to string together some wins to close the season. In blowout fashion, Doncic and the Mavericks took down Golden State 133-103 and at one point caused the home team Warriors fans to boo their own team for their underwhelming performance. Doncic ramped things up in this one with 39 points, six rebounds, and eight assists on much better shooting splits – 15-of-23 from the floor, but still struggled going 4-of-10 from three and he hit all five of his free throws.
The Dallas bench was extremely impressive as well as they combined to score 60 points with Tim Hardaway Jr., Jalen Brunson, and Nicolo Melli leading the charge. Definitely a solid win to get the confidence of the team going as this was their third last margin of victory of the season against a team in Golden State who also has playoff aspirations.
Doncic would go on to miss the game against the Detroit Pistons, but the Mavericks would make light work of them. On the back of 42 points from Tim Hardaway Jr., Dallas would win this game easily by the score of 115-105.
Then to close out the week, we got the money matchup of the week as Dallas took on Russell Westbrook and the surging Washington Wizards. In nail-biting fashion, the Mavericks would pull out the win 125-124, but it was how they got the win that was so impressive. Doncic led the way with 31 points, 12 rebounds, a whopping 20 assists despite struggling from three (1-of-6), and shot 12-of-23 from the floor.
The history made in this shot came off a Dorian Finney-Smith three with nine seconds left in the game to hand Dallas the win and give Doncic his historic 20th assist. With that assist, Doncic would become only the fourth player in NBA history to record a 30-point, 20 assist triple-double. He joins the company of Hall of Fame guards Russell Westbrook, Oscar Robertson, and Magic Johnson.
Similar to Tatum, we are talking about Doncic entering an upper echelon at the point guard position amongst some of the best to dawn an NBA jersey. This kind of stat line is no easy feat to acquire and that even further displays how special this guy can be as a rising star that is still only in his third NBA season.
Looking at his season overall, Doncic has really elevated statistically the way Tatum has, but his high usage has a lot to do with that. It is hard to expect more from him than what he has already done in such a short time as guy who is asked to literally carry his team on a night-to-night basis. This season he is averaging 28.6 points, 8.0 rebounds, and 8.9 assists on his way to leading the league in usage rate at 35.7%. This is just above established veteran All-Stars in Bradley Beal (34.3%) and Stephen Curry (33.9%) who are both also fighting to keep their respective teams in the playoff picture.
Doncic may not be at the top of the MVP race the way Vegas was projecting coming into the season, but he is still having an outstanding year for Mavericks team that could be sneaky dangerous in the postseason.