HomeSportMalachi Flynn's Instant Classic: Breaking Down a 50-Point Eruption for the Ages

Malachi Flynn’s Instant Classic: Breaking Down a 50-Point Eruption for the Ages

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The Detroit Pistons may have lost 121-113 to the Atlanta Hawks, but the Motor City was treated to an individual scoring exhibition for the ages courtesy of reserve guard Malachi Flynn. In a performance that will live on in NBA lore, the third-year pro exploded for a career-high 50 points off the bench, etching his name into the record books alongside legends of the game.

Flynn’s 50-point barrage is the highest single-game scoring output ever by a Pistons reserve, shattering the previous franchise mark of 38 set by Richard Hamilton in 2009. But his historic night resonates far beyond just Detroit.

The 24-year-old’s incredible stat line – 50 points on a blistering 18-of-25 shooting, including 9-of-12 from the free throw line with 6 rebounds, 5 assists and 5 steals – ranks him amongst iconic company in NBA history. Flynn’s 50 points tie him for the second-highest single-game scoring output ever by a bench player, matching Nick Anderson’s total back in 1993. Only Los Angeles Clippers legend Jamal Crawford, who hung 51 points on the Mavericks in 2019, scored more as a reserve.  

For a player who had never eclipsed 27 points in a game during his first two NBA seasons and came into the night averaging just 5.2 points per game for his career, the lowest of any 50-point scorer all-time, Flynn’s eruption was unprecedented and unforeseen at every level.

“It’s tough to put into perspective because at the end of the day you want to win,” Flynn said after the tough loss. “But it does feel good to soak in the moment. I’m sure a couple days from now it will feel really good.”

Indeed, the circumstances surrounding Flynn’s 50-piece only add to the lore. He didn’t even enter the game until the 5:38 mark of the first quarter, essentially combusting out of nowhere off the bench to pour in 33 second-half points.

Flynn became just the 10th different player in the NBA to score 50-plus points this season. Only six reserves had previously scored 40-plus points in a game in 2022-23 prior to the Seattle native’s barrage.

While fellow bench flamethrowers like Crawford and Lou Williams are renowned for their instant offense, their high-scoring tendencies never reached the atmospheric realm Flynn ventured into on this April night in Detroit. Even Williams’ career-high of 50 points came as a starter, not off the pine.  

The deeper you dive into the advanced numbers and context, the more mind-boggling Flynn’s performance becomes.

According to Basketball-Reference’s Game Score metric, which credits production across diverse statistics like shooting, rebounds and steals, Flynn’s Game Score of 45.5 rates as the best single-game performance of the entire NBA season. The next closest was Luka Doncic’s 53-point triple-double back in December which scored a 44.3 Game Score.

Perhaps most impressively, Flynn managed to play just 34 minutes. His scorching scoring rate of 1.47 points per minute is the highest by any player with 40 or more points in a game over the last decade. Even in the modern NBA era where scoring outputs are inflated, Flynn’s efficiency from a reserve role rivals the greatest single-game scoring binges.

“That’s just an incredible and special performance,” said Pistons head coach Dwane Casey. “For a young player who works as hard as Malachi to have a night like this, it makes you incredibly proud as a coach and organization. You just don’t see something like that very often.”

What makes the performance even more unbelievable is that absolutely nothing appeared to foreshadow such a volcanic eruption. Flynn had been stuck in a rut, failing to score in double figures in any of his previous seven outings. His season-high was just 18 points.

In a tight fourth quarter battle, however, the third-year combo guard from Washington State caught fire in the most epic way imaginable.  

“After I hit like my fifth or sixth three, I could kind of feel it coming,” Flynn recalled. “My legs felt great, the hoop felt like the ocean and I just couldn’t miss. It was the best zone I’ve ever been in.”

With the Pistons desperately trying to keep pace, Flynn scored a staggering 25 fourth quarter points to single-handedly force overtime against the stunned Hawks. Included in that flurry were seven made threes as the 6-foot-1 sparkplug simply could not be extinguished.

While Detroit ultimately fell short, failing to score a single point in the overtime period as exhaustion from Flynn’s herculean lifted seemed to set in, the guard’s singular momentum continued to build with every jaw-dropping make.

“He was doing everything – knocking down threes off the bounce, pulling up in transition, getting to the rack and finishing through contact,” said Hawks forward DeAndre Hunter, who scored 21 points in the win but was relegated to a secondary role on this night. “We just had no answer for him.” 

Pistons fans who witnessed Flynn’s torrid display in-person immediately etched it into their memory banks as an all-timer. The chants of “MA-LA-CHI FLY-NN” that rained down from the rafters only seemed to spur on his unconscious zone even further.

“I was right there on the baseline for some of those fourth quarter threes and you could actually feel the energy pulsing through the building,” recounted season ticket holder Mark Woodall. “I’ve seen a lot of great Pistons performances in-person like Isiah’s 25 straight points and Rip’s 51-point game, but I’ve never experienced an individual putting on a show quite like that.”

In a losing campaign where the Pistons have struggled for positive moments as an undermanned and overmatched squad relying heavily on youth, Flynn’s 50-point stunner is the unquestioned brightest of bright spots. While wins have been hard to come by, Detroit has an indelible memory of their reserve guard inexplicably catching fire and joining hallowed company for one night only.

For a player who had been mired in offensive struggles and in search of his NBA breakthrough, Friday’s masterpiece was the ultimate confirmation of elite scoring ability bubbling under the surface. No matter where his career trajectory goes from here, Malachi Flynn will forever be etched into NBA history for his unforgettable 50-piece in the D.

Beyond the records and historic comparisons, what’s most remarkable is just how consistently efficient Flynn was at filling up the cup. This wasn’t an example of hoisting a franchise-record number of shots or random heaves banking in. The third-year guard was squarely in the zone, seemingly incapable of missing whatever look he created. There were no heat checks, just a steady barrage of makes from all areas on the floor.

“For about three quarters, he was the best player on the planet tonight,” said Hawks guard Trae Young. “We threw everything at him – sent doubles, went over screens, went under screens, it didn’t matter. Everything was falling for him.”

Now the question becomes whether this was just one magical anomaly for Flynn as a reclamation scorer or a sign of greater things to come. Flashes of brilliance like Friday are precisely why franchises are always reluctant to completely give up on young, toolsy prospects who have shown glimpses of upside.  

If nothing else, it provides a launchpad of encouragement and confidence for Flynn heading into year four and beyond. To simply know your ceiling is capable of reaching those rarefied heights, even if for one night, can be a tantalizing driving force for any young player’s development.

“To score 50 points at the highest level, even if it only happens once, should let Malachi know he can flourish in this league,” said Casey. “It’s a platform for him to build from and become a, consistent scoring threat in the NBA.”

As for the scoring binge itself,  Flynn climbing rarified air alongside legendary company like Crawford and Anderson is a clear source of pride and joy. To achieve such a lofty individual feat is the type of dream virtually every basketball player has growing up taking outside shots on their driveway hoop.

“We’ll celebrate this and make sure Malachi knows how special it is,” said teammate Jaden Ivey. “A 50-point game in the NBA is something you’ll be able to tell your kids and grandkids about forever.”

For one electrifying April night in Detroit at least, every shot Malachi Flynn put up found nothing but the bottom of the net. And while the final score may have resulted in a loss, his name is now permanently inscribed among the greatest single-game scoring outburst.

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