MILWAUKEE – Five takeaways from the Boston Celtics’ 108-95 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 6 on Friday at the Fiserv Forum that tied their Eastern Conference semifinal series, 3-3, and forced the Game 7 Sunday afternoon in Boston (3:30 a.m. ET, ABC).
1. Tatum’s superstar performance was born
Boston’s Jayson Tatum already had a flashy resume, from three All-Star appearances and an All-NBA selection to a contract paying him more than $163 million from this season to 2025-26. But what he did to save the Celtics’ season for at least 42 overtime hours raised his profile and reputation a few levels.
The sleek, free-flowing striker had a Giannis Antetokounmpo-type game – against Giannis Antetokounmpo. Frankly, the game seemed stacked too high against Tatum and his team, especially given Boston’s collapse in the final minutes of Game 5.
So here they are Friday night with all those bad memories, on the road, against the reigning NBA champions and the two-time Most Valuable Player, facing elimination. And just when the Celtics needed it most, Tatum said, “No.”
“It was on our minds, Game 5,” Tatum said after scoring 46 points with nine rebounds and four assists. He took 32 shots, made 17, and 7 of 15 from the arc, hit as many 3-pointers as the entire Bucks team combined (7 of 29). He played nearly 43 minutes and recorded a plus-21 rating.
Teammate Marcus Smart, burned on a pair of crucial plays in Game 5, claimed he hadn’t slept between the two games. Other Celtics kicked themselves and reflected on how they let Milwaukee get away with it and could live to regret it.
“It’s something we talked about,” Tatum said. “We felt they beat us on winning plays, bustle plays, 50/50 balls. They were tougher than us in that fourth quarter, Game 5.
“Our season was on the line.”
None of them have done more than Tatum. Just when it looked like the game was headed for a replay — Boston opening up a big lead, then watching it fizzle in the fourth — Tatum flipped the script.
The Celtics’ 18-point lead had fallen to six when Tatum replaced with 9:37 remaining. The Forum Fiserv crowd, nervous and calm for much of the middle two quarters, was alive. Then Antetokounmpo drained a 3-pointer from 28 feet to make it 85-81 and it was gone.
Tatum hit a fadeaway shot. Then he stopped for a 3. Then a pass from Smart for a turnover jumper, followed a few possessions later by another 3 over Milwaukee’s Pat Connaughton.
The Celtics led their offense to bring Tatum into favorable matchups. At the end of his 10-point series, they even used him as a decoy to set up a 3 by his sidekick Jaylen Brown. That cut the lead back to double digits, 98-87, with about five minutes left and the Bucks never got closer.
Tatum had taken some heat following the Game 5 slump for being a little teflon in his demeanor, outplaying anyone who wanted to see him or the other Boston players put his head down, hit tables or other histrionics. “I mean I could come here and pout and be sad and I’m sure there would be a big story about how we’re defeated and I don’t believe in us,” the 24-year-old said. years that night. . “Or I could come in like, you can’t change what happened.”
Instead of trying to frame the narrative in Game 6, Tatum wrote the whole story.
2. Giannis had to do it all – and almost did
His numbers in the series were already ridiculous, and they were compiled in Game 6 when he became the third player in NBA playoff history to score at least 40 pounds, grab 20 rebounds and get five or more assists. The other two: Shaquille O’Neal and Wilt Chamberlain.
Giannis Antetokounmpo joins Shaquille O’Neal and Wilt Chamberlain as the only players to do so in a playoff game:
🔥 40 PTS
🔥 20 REB
🔥 5 ATS pic.twitter.com/4BeNV8yzU6
— NBA Television (@NBATV) May 14, 2022
But Antetokounmpo looked a bit lonely and overworked in Game 6. The other seven Bucks in the rotation who played combined for just 51 points to 44. He went 14 of 15 from the foul line, they went 2 of 3. He was 2 of 3 on 3 points, they were 5 of 26. And so on.
Boston got great offensive performances from its top three players, with Tatum, Smart (21) and Brown (22) combined for 89 points. The Bucks had only Jrue Holiday, with 17 points on 17 shooting, and Pat Connaughton (14), assisting Antetokounmpo to score.
The most obvious problem is the continued absence of All-Star winger Khris Middleton with a sprained left knee. Don’t be surprised if Sunday’s elimination factor brings Middleton back into the lineup, the minutes restriction is sacred.
But as Holiday saw, there was no getting over Boston’s 3-point prowess in this one. The Celtics threw 43 and made 17, with an 8-of-15 opening barrage. The Bucks missed all night deep: 2-of-7 in the first, 1-of-9 in the second, 1-of-4 in the third.
So how could they fix the disparity in Game 7? Go up even more.
“We need to raise more than three,” Holiday said. “We have to find a way to get more threes and make more threes.”
3. These playoffs really need more paid calls
We are sarcastic, of course. Oh, there are probably old-school coaches out there watching games like this and reveling in the site of strong, fit athletes who fall over and over and over again looking for offensive fouls .
But the entertainment value of this is negligible, and the threat of injury to talented Thoroughbred-type players borders on negligence. Nobody wants defenders to be treated like bowlers, but when they go on the hunt for charges, some of the game’s biggest stars – like Antetokounmpo and Tatum – are put at crazy risk.
Add to that the tendency of coaches to use their challenges on such plays and we end up with players crashing to the ground and games stopping to see if someone really has become a statue in time to thwart a highlight or poster.
Here’s the kicker: It can even mess up the team trying to draw those fouls. After Antetokounmpo committed his fourth foul with nearly 20 minutes left in the game, the Celtics rushed to try and force his fifth and, hey, maybe his sixth. A bit “heavy”, called coach Ime Udoka. And it ruined their game.
Grant Williams thought he got the Greek Freak at 10:16 of the fourth, only to challenge the Bucks and win. Finally, Tatum got busy playing winning basketball and the trick-the-refs stuff was put away. I wish he could stay there.
4. Grayson Allen is chosen
In the regular season and even in Milwaukee’s first-round series against Chicago, guard Grayson Allen was a useful and annoying player. He started 61 games, made 40% of his 3-pointers, irritated opponents with his defense and reputation, and received a two-year, $20 million contract extension before even playing a real game for the Bucks.
But Allen was a liability against the Celtics. He’s shooting 36 percent, including 5 of 20 on 3-pointers, and while Milwaukee was outscored by 27 through the first six games, that number was 43 when Allen is on the court. The Boston shooters are looking for him as a defender to exploit (at least until George Hill comes on).
“Over-under is a tough stat,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “But Grayson is doing his best.
“The start of the third quarter kind of marked me [as a struggle]. I’m sure Grayson could be better, but as a group it’s really up to all of us to be better coming out of the third quarter.
By the way, it seems fair to note here that Budenholzer did not help his club when he called his predictable and notorious timeout UIOLI (use it or lose it) with 3:02 to go. Teams are only allowed two timeouts in the final three minutes, and the Bucks coach is almost comically determined not to have one taken out.
Only this time Antetokounmpo had the ball and was pushing up with a few teammates. Milwaukee’s best offense in the series came in transition. Still, Budenholzer stopped the break and then found himself out of time out with his star taking a rare and unsuccessful 3-point corner.
The group must be better.
5. Is ‘Game 7’ really two words, a word and a number, or what?
This cliche of the “two best words in sports” may be getting old, but Game 7 itself never does. The NBA will have a pair on Sunday, with the Celtics and Bucks deciding the Miami Heat’s dance partner for the Eastern Finals before Phoenix and Dallas scramble to see who will face Golden State in the West.
There was talk after Game 6 focused on the end of the regular season, when Boston closed with a win over Memphis while Milwaukee went bust in Cleveland. That’s how the two teams 51-31 finished second and third respectively, with the Bucks getting their favorite first-round matchup with Chicago while the Celtics had to face Brooklyn (a presumably tougher foe at the time).
Their tiebreaker difference in the standings is why Boston gained home-court advantage in this series, which now means Game 7 at TD Garden. There’s only one problem with that: the road team have won four of the six games so far.
From the words and tone of the attendees late Friday night, it seemed like the Celtics were happy to play the clincher at home, while the more seasoned Bucks showed their “go for it” swagger. Would we expect something different?
“Good old Game 7,” Antetokounmpo said. “Magnificent.”
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