On April 1st, 1973, the mighty Boston Celtics, 1972-73 NBA winningest squad with a 68-14 record, faced the Atlanta Hawks in the opening game of Eastern Conference 1st round of playoff.
That night, a crowd of 11,907 in the Boston Garden witnessed not only the convincing Celtics victory but also one of the most memorable individual performances in the glorious Celtics history.
It was Celtics guard/forward John Havlicek who set the new scoring record of his 11-year NBA career but also outmatched the previous Celtics record of 51 points in a playoff game, held by Sam Jones.
While holding Atlanta scoreless for the first 4 minutes and 50 seconds of the game, Boston cruised to a 16-0 lead. Havlicek converted all four of his initial field goals, thus scoring the first eight points in a game.
However, Atlanta paced by Lou Hudson’s 28 points did manage to rebound from the early deficit and to narrow the gap at 44:40 by scoring 11 consecutive points midway through the second quarter.
Seeing that their team captain Havlicek is hitting shot after shot, his teammates kept feeding him the ball - Celtics point guards JoJo White, and Art Williams combined for a total of 22 assists in the game. After scoring 30 points in the first half alone, Havlicek extended his total to 43 after the third period.
Most importantly, Hondo was doing it by not forcing it - he just followed the natural flow of the game over the course of all 48 minutes.
For the first five and a half minutes of the final quarter, Havlicek went scoreless. But then he went on a tear and scored 11 points in the next six and a half minutes to secure 134-109 Celtics home win.
“The only time we ran a specific play for him was the basket that broke 50.”
Tom Heinsohn, Boston Celtics head coach
It was during that tear that the Celtics big man, Dave Covens found Havlicek in the paint on an inbounds play. This enabled Hondo to score 52 points and thus surpass the previous Celtics playoff record.
All in all, Havlicek hit 24-36 shots from the field while also converting all six of his free-throw attempts en route to a total of 54 points. He also grabbed 9 boards and dished out 6 dimes.
Havlicek’s record for the most points in a single Boston Celtics playoff game still stands. The player who came the closest to equalizing it or breaking was point guard Isaiah Thomas who scored 53 points on May 2nd, 2017 vs. the Washington Wizards.
The fact which really shows the magnificence of this Havlicek’s record is that he is still co-holder of NBA record for the most field goals made in a single playoff game (24), together with the all-time Greats Wilt Chamberlain (1960) and Michael Jordan (1988).