The name T.J. Warren was buzzing across social media Saturday night for good reason.
The Indiana forward, who had never scored more than 40 points in a game in his six-year career, erupted for a career-best 53, including 19 in the fourth quarter, during the Pacers‘ 127-121 win over the Philadelphia 76ers inside the NBA bubble at Walt Disney World Resort.
But his teammates, with whom he’s been in the foxhole all season, weren’t necessarily stunned.
“If you know T.J. Warren, you know he’s a bucket, so it’s not surprising to me,” Pacers guard Aaron Holiday said. “We just kept feeding the hot hand to be honest and he was on fire.”
With “Justice” substituting for his last name on the back of his No. 1 Pacers jersey as part of the leaguewide fight for social justice, Warren rained in nine 3s to match Paul George‘s franchise record. His hot hand helped Indiana overcome a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.
“T.J. Warren been scoring his whole life. Since his AAU days to NC State,” Pacers guard Victor Oladipo said. “He’s been a scorer since as long as I’ve known him. I’ve known him for a long time. … Getting to know him, playing here, he was born to get buckets so it’s no surprise to any of us that he was able to do what he did tonight.
“It’s great to have him on our team,” Oladipo added. “It was amazing to watch and we’re all happy for him. That was incredible. Things like that don’t happen often.”
Warren became the fifth player in NBA history to hit nine 3s and nine 2-point field goals in a game, joining James Harden (who has done it four times), Damian Lillard (twice) and Kobe Bryant and Stephen Curry (once each).
He also became the fourth player in Pacers history with a 50-point game, along with Reggie Miller, Jermaine O’Neal and Billy Knight.
Without Malcolm Brogdon (cervical strain) and All-Star Domantas Sabonis (left foot plantar fasciitis) in the lineup Saturday for Indiana, Warren knew he had to step it up. After all, he said, he was built for this stage.
“I play a lot of basketball. When I’m at home with my friends, when I’m playing pickup games … anywhere. I’m just born to be a hooper so just me coming out here, just playing the way I play and playing my game, being aggressive,” said Warren, the son of former NC State player Tony Warren.
“It doesn’t matter the environment, you’ve just got to come with it every game. Every game I feel anxious and nervous at the same time but it’s full of excitement. Tonight was one of those special nights.”