MILWAUKEE- Five takeaways from the Boston Celtics’ 108-95 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 6 on Friday at the Fiserv Forum that evened their Eastern Conference semifinal series, 3-3, and forced Game 7 on Sunday by the afternoon in Boston (3:30 ET, ABC).
1. Tatum’s birth of a superstar performance
Boston’s Jayson Tatum already had an impressive resume, from three All-Star appearances and an All-NBA selection to a contract that paid him more than $163 million from this season through 2025-26. But what he did by saving the Celtics’ season for at least another 42 hours raised his profile and reputation another couple of notches.
The sleek, smooth-shooting forward had a Giannis Antetokounmpo type of game, against Giannis Antetokounmpo. Frankly, the stakes seemed too high against Tatum and his team, particularly given Boston’s collapse in the closing minutes of Game 5.
So here they were Friday night with all those bad memories, on the road, against the defending NBA champions and two-time MVP facing elimination. And just when the Celtics needed him most, Tatum said, “Nah.”
“That was in the back of our minds, Game 5,” Tatum said after posting 46 points with nine rebounds and four assists. He took 32 shots, made 17 of them and on 7-of-15 from the arc, made as many 3-pointers as the entire Bucks team combined (7-of-29). He played almost 43 minutes and recorded a plus-21.
His teammate Marcus Smart, burned out on a couple of pivotal plays in Game 5, claimed he didn’t sleep between the two games. Other Celtics kicked themselves and pondered how they would let Milwaukee go and live to regret it.
“That’s something we talked about,” Tatum said. “We feel like they beat us on game winners, rush plays, 50/50 balls. They were tougher than us in that fourth quarter, Game 5.
“Our season was on the line.”
None of them did more about it than Tatum. Just when it seemed the game was headed for a replay, Boston opened up a big lead and then watched it fizzle out in the fourth, Tatum flipped the script.
The Celtics’ 18-point lead was down to six when Tatum came on with 9:37 remaining. The Fiserv Forum crowd, nervous and quiet for much of the two interim quarters, was alive. Then Antetokounmpo hit a 3-pointer from 28 feet to make it 85-81 and he was on fire.
Tatum made a faded shot. He then stopped for a 3-pointer. Then a pass from Smart for a jump shot, followed a couple of possessions later by another 3-pointer over Milwaukee’s Pat Connaughton.
The Celtics ran their offense so Tatum would have favorable matchups. Late in his 10-point run, he was even used as a decoy to set up a 3-pointer from teammate Jaylen Brown. That pushed the lead back into double figures, 98-87, with about five minutes to go and the Bucks never came close.
Tatum had received some criticism after the Game 5 collapse for being a bit Teflon in his demeanor, preempting anyone who wanted to see him or the other Boston players with their heads down, kicking tables or other histrionics. “I mean, I could come up here and pout and be sad and I’m sure there would be a great story about how we were beaten and I don’t believe in us,” the 24-year-old said that night. . “Or I could go in like, you can’t change what happened.”
Instead of trying to frame the narrative in Game 6, Tatum wrote the whole damn story.
2. Giannis had to do it all, and almost did
His numbers in the series were already ridiculous, and they were marked in Game 6 when he became the third player in NBA playoff history to put on at least 40 pounds, grab 20 rebounds and throw 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 this in a playoff game:
🔥 40 points
🔥 20 REB
🔥 5 AST pic.twitter.com/4BeNV8yzU6
— NBA Television (@NBATV) May 14, 2022
But Antetokounmpo seemed a bit lonely and overworked in Game 6. The other seven Bucks in the rotation who played combined for just 51 points against his 44. He was 14-for-15 from the free throw line, they were 2-for-15 from the free throw line. 3. He hit 2 of 3 in triples, they were 5 of 26. And so it was.
Boston got big offensive performances from its top three players, with Tatum, Smart (21) and Brown (22) combining for 89 points. The Bucks only had Jrue Holiday, with 17 points on 17 shots, and Pat Connaughton (14), helping Antetokounmpo in scoring.
The most obvious problem is the continued absence of All-Star wing Khris Middleton with a left knee strain. Don’t be surprised if Sunday’s elimination factor lands Middleton back in the lineup, the minute restriction be damned.
But as Holiday saw it, there was no way to beat Boston’s 3-point prowess in this case. The Celtics shot 43 and made 17, starting with an 8-for-15 blitz. The Bucks were failing all night from deep: 2-for-7 in the first, 1-for-9 in the second, 1-for-4 in the third.
So how could they fix the disparity in Game 7? Get up even higher.
“We have to make more 3-pointers,” Holiday said. “We have to find a way to lift more 3s and make more 3s.”
3. These playoffs really need more cargo calls
We are being sarcastic, of course. Oh, there are probably some old-school coaches out there watching games like this and reveling in the sight of strong, fit athletes falling backwards over and over again, looking for offensive fouls.
But the entertainment value of that is negligible, and the threat of injury to talented Thoroughbred players is almost negligible. Nobody wants defenders to be treated like skittles, but when they go on the hunt for attacks, some of the game’s biggest stars, like Antetokounmpo and Tatum, take incredible risk.
Add to that the tendency for trainers to use their challenges on such plays and we end up with players crashing to the ground and games pausing to see if anyone actually turned into a statue in time to foil a featured play or poster.
Here’s the catch: you can mess up even the team trying to commit those fouls. After Antetokounmpo committed his fourth foul with nearly 20 minutes left in the game, the Celtics found themselves embroiled in trying to force their fifth and, well, maybe sixth. A bit “heavy”, coach Ime Udoka called it. And he messed with his game.
Grant Williams thought he got the Greek monster at 10:16 of the quarter, only for the Bucks to challenge and win. Finally, Tatum took care of playing winning basketball and the cheating referees stuff was shelved. I wish he could stay there.
4. Grayson Allen is being teased
In the regular season and even in Milwaukee’s first-round series against Chicago, guard Grayson Allen was a bothersome and useful type of player. He started 61 games, shot 40% of his 3-pointers, irritated opponents with his defense and reputation, and received a two-year, $20 million contract extension before even playing an actual game for the Bucks. .
But Allen has been a liability against the Celtics. He’s shooting 36%, including 5-for-20 from 3-point range, and while Milwaukee has been outscored by 27 points in the first six games, that number has been 43 when Allen is on the floor. Boston shooters look to him as a defender to exploit (at least until George Hill comes into play).
“Plus-minus is a tough stat,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “But Grayson is doing the best he can.
“The beginning of the third quarter catches my attention [as a struggle]. I’m sure Grayson could be better, but as a group, he’s really up to all of us to be better coming out of the third quarter.”
By the way, it seems fair to point out here that Budenholzer didn’t help his club when he called his predictable and notorious UIOLI (use it or lose it) timeout with 3:02 remaining. Teams are allowed only two timeouts in the final three minutes, and the Bucks coach is almost comically dedicated to not wasting any.
Only this time, Antetokounmpo had the ball and was pushing up with a couple of teammates. Milwaukee’s best offense in the series has come in transition. However, Budenholzer stopped the counterattack and then ended up out of timeout with his star taking a rare and unsuccessful corner triple.
The group has to be better.
5. Is ‘Game 7’ really two words, a word and a number, or what?
That “best two words in sports” cliché may be going out of style, but Games 7 never does. The NBA will have a couple of them on Sunday, with the Celtics and Bucks deciding the Miami Heat’s dance partner for the East finals before Phoenix and Dallas discuss things to see who faces Golden State in the West.
There was talk after Game 6 focused on the regular season finale, when Boston closed out with a win over Memphis while Milwaukee belly-flopped at Cleveland. That’s how the two 51-31 teams finished seeded second and third, respectively, with the Bucks having their preferred first-round clash with Chicago while the Celtics had to face Brooklyn (a presumably tougher foe at the time).
Their playoff difference in the standings is the reason Boston got home-field advantage in this series, which now means Game 7 at TD Garden. There’s just one problem with that: the away team has won four of the six games so far.
From the words and tone of the participants Friday night, it seemed like the Celtics were happy to play the clincher at home, while the more experienced Bucks showed their “go ahead” arrogance. Would we expect something different?
“Good old Game 7,” Antetokounmpo said. “Handsome.”
* * *
The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs, or Turner Broadcasting.