Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
With Celtics fans hoping for a legacy game from Jayson Tatum, he delivered with 46 points, and Boston held the Bucks to 95, forcing a Game 7 on the TD Garden parquet.
Friday’s Game 6 offered the defending NBA champions a chance to close out their second-round series in front of their crowd. It also extended the Celtics another opportunity to show their character and for Jayson Tatum, in particular, to deliver a performance that will get etched into his legacy.
While Antetokounmpo did everything in his power to get the Bucks to the conference finals, scoring 44 points, grabbing 20 rebounds, and distributing six assists, it was the latter who capitalized on Friday’s opportunity.
Now, for a deep dive into how the Celtics met the moment, forcing a Game 7 in Boston.
Celtics Make Their Threes, But Antetokounmpo Scores 17 in First Frame
Jaylen Brown opened the scoring by draining a three from above the break after a pair of jab steps.
Marcus Smart then extended the Celtics’ lead to 6-2, knocking down a three from the right wing.
After that, Jayson Tatum tried to force a bounce pass from the top of the key to Brown, but Jrue Holiday stepped in front of it, easily getting the steal. That led to Giannis Antetokounmpo plowing to the rim for his second trip to the free-throw line. He again made both to make it a 6-4 game.
But on the Bucks’ next possession, Antetokounmpo tried to barrel his way to the basket, only to get called for a charge as Grant Williams stood his ground deep in the paint. If the call went against Williams, it would’ve been his second foul, just over two minutes into the game.
After two more Antetokounmpo free throws brought the score to 9-6, Smart buried another three to extend Boston’s lead to 12-6. Tatum then connected on his second shot from beyond the arc to push the visitor’s advantage to nine.
Antetokounmpo countered with a mid-range pull-up jumper. And at the other end, Williams got called for an illegal screen, his second personal foul.
With 6:24 left to play in the period, after Brown lost the ball, an unforced live-ball turnover, Antetokounmpo forced his way through a gap between Smart and Al Horford. Perhaps wanting to avoid a foul, neither applied much resistance, and the former league MVP generated two more points near the rim. That pulled Milwaukee within one, 15-14.
That prompted Ime Udoka to take a timeout. Out of the break, Derrick White got downhill for two points at the basket, but Antetokounmpo answered with a three, and Holiday matched it to give the Bucks a 20-17 lead, their first in the game.
At the 4:52 mark, Smart hit a timely three that temporarily quieted the crowd and brought Boston within two, 22-20.
After Brown’s second live-ball turnover, Brook Lopez capitalized on a mismatch against the much shorter White, shooting over him for two points from 8-feet out. That gave the hosts a 24-20 advantage with 3:08 on the clock.
After another Udoka timeout, Smart knocked down a three from the left corner after a nice pass from Horford. Smart then got a side-step layup, giving Boston another lead, 25-24.
With 44.8 seconds left, Tatum hit another three, bringing to him 3/3 from beyond the arc, and it gave the Celtics a 28-26 advantage. That remained the score when the quarter came to a close.
In a positive note, Boston was 8/15 (53.3 percent) from three. But the Celtics also committed four turnovers, three of the live-ball variety, leading to eight points for Milwaukee. They can’t make this game any harder on themselves than it already is.
And while Smart had a team-high 14 points and Tatum produced nine, Antetokounmpo scored 17 in the first frame, including going 6/6 at the free-throw line.
Celtics Take Care of the Ball, Cut Down on Fouls, and Take a 10-Point Lead into Halftime
At the start of the second quarter, Antetokounmpo fouled Brown while the two pursued a loose ball. Antetokounmpo got inadvertently hit in the face by Brown in the process, but he laid on the court long enough to earn a delay of game violation.
Tatum then spun to the cup for two points at the rim, extending Boston’s lead to 30-26.
A few possessions later, Tatum drilled a three from above the break. That made it a 35-30 game.
After that, Tatum came off a screen from Williams and quickly skipped the ball from the right elbow to Brown in the left corner. Brown drilled a three, and the Celtics took a 38-30 lead.
At that point, The Celtics had assisted on 10/14 field goals and were shooting 10/17 (58.8 percent) from beyond the arc.
At the 8:32 mark, Tatum got downhill and hit a swooping layup to put Boston ahead by ten.
With 7:25 remaining, after the Bucks nearly turned it over, Connaughton retrieved the ball, found an open Holiday, and Holiday swished a three from the left-wing.
Tatum then missed a layup, and as he expressed frustration about the lack of a foul call, Milwaukee took off towards the other end, where Antetokounmpo soared over Smart for two points plus another trip to the line. It was a blocking call the Celtics decided to challenge.
Unfortunately for Boston, the ruling did not get overturned. Had it been, that would’ve been Antetokounmpo’s third foul. Last year’s Finals MVP then missed the ensuing free throw.
Tatum responded, going back to the spin move to get to the basket, where he made the layup and got fouled, but he couldn’t turn it into a three-point play. It was also the Celtics’ first free throw of the game.
Antetokounmpo came back with a monster jam, to the home crowd’s delight. That trimmed Milwaukee’s deficit to 42-37. Holiday then went back door for a layup to make it 42-39.
With 2:58 left, White swished an open three to extend Boston’s lead to 45-39.
With 1:09 to go, White caught an inbounds pass at the top of the key, attacked Bobby Portis off the dribble, and got a tough two to give the Celtics a 49-41 advantage.
With 27.1 seconds remaining, Smart pushed the pace off a Wesley Matthews layup, getting to the basket, where he made a contested layup to make it a 51-43 game.
White then drew a charge on Antetokounmpo, the latter’s third foul, sending him to the bench for the rest of the quarter. He followed that by earning a trip to the charity stripe, where he went 2/2, giving Boston a 53-43 lead it took into halftime.
At the break, the Celtics were 11/25 (44 percent) on threes, assisted on 12/19 field goals, and produced 16 points in the paint. They also only committed two turnovers in the second after coughing the ball up four times in the first. And they cut down on fouls in the second frame.
Tatum led Boston with 18 points, to go with five rebounds and three assists. Smart had 16, and White contributed nine off the bench.
Antetokounmpo led all scorers with 21 points but only had four in the second quarter. He paced the Bucks to 24 points in the paint, but the Celtics’ ability to pressure their ball-handlers and rotate to challenge shots resulted in Milwaukee shooting 37 percent from the field and 3/16 (18.8 percent) from beyond the arc.
Tatum Leads the Way as Celtics Extend Their Lead Entering the Fourth Quarter
Holiday started the second-half scoring, attacking off the dribble and knocking down a mid-range jumper from the baseline, bringing the Bucks’ deficit to single-digits, 53-45.
At the 9:58 mark, Horford tipped in a Williams missed a layup, giving the Celtics their largest lead of the game, 56-45. Tatum extended it with a three, putting Boston ahead 59-45.
Grayson Allen countered with two points at the rim, plus Williams’ third foul. He then made the free throw to make it a 59-48 game. Williams stayed on the floor.
Tatum responded, spinning past Allen and elevating for a bank shot at the basket that pushed the Celtics’ advantage to 61-48.
He then attacked in transition and swung the ball back out to Brown for a jump shot from 20-feet to make it 63-48.
At the 7:54 mark, after Tatum blocked Portis, Brown got a layup and the foul, the fourth on Antetokounmpo. He couldn’t turn it into three points the old-fashion way, though.
But after a Portis put-back dunk, Brown made up for it, drilling a three from the left-wing.
Then, after a missed three by Tatum, Antetokounmpo put back his missed layup, trimming the gap to 68-54. Portis then buried an open three from the right corner, making it a 68-57 game. That prompted Ime Udoka to take a timeout. During the stop in play, Portis’s three got ruled a two as the officials saw he had a foot on the line.
With 4:33 remaining, Pat Connaughton stepped into a three that cut Milwaukee’s deficit to 70-59. Nearly a minute later, Antetokounmpo went hard to the rim, drawing a foul on White, who hit his arm, negating that Brown got himself in a position for a charge against the former league MVP. That would’ve been Antetokounmpo’s fifth foul, which also means the call might’ve gone his way.
Antetokounmpo knocked down the free throw to bring the Bucks within eight, 70-62. Smart Countered with a three. Antetokounmpo answered with a jump hook from 14-feet out to make it 73-64.
With 2:19 left, Tatum earned two points on a floater from six-feet out to put Boston on top 75-64.
With 1:20 to go, a possession featuring multiple drive-and-kicks culminated with Smart throwing the ball from above the arc to Daniel Theis for a mid-range jumper from the baseline, giving the visitors a 77-64 advantage.
Then, Tatum swished a side-step three over Portis at the left-wing, extending the Celtics’ lead to 83-68 with 12.3 seconds to play.
After that, Antetokounmpo earned another trip to the line, where he made both shots to make the score 83-70 entering the break.
Tatum Scores 28 Points in the Fourth Quarter as Celtics Extend Series
On the first possession of the fourth quarter, White missed a layup but came from behind to strip the ball from Antetokounmpo, leading to a layup for Bown.
Slightly over a minute into the final frame, Antetokounmpo screened for Connaughton, who gave the former league MVP a bounce pass in stride. Despite the Celtics playing drop coverage, it ended with Antetokounmpo dunking over the much shorter Payton Pritchard. And he drew a foul and made the ensuing free throw to make it 84-73.
Williams then drew a charge on Antetokounmpo, the latter’s fifth foul. Mike Budenholzer had little choice but to challenge the call. The challenge was successful since Williams moved his feet late.
It also sent last year’s Finals MVP to the line. Antetokounmpo went 2/2 at the stripe. Connaughton then swished a three from the left corner to make it a six-point game, 84-78, with 9:47 to play.
At the 8:42 mark, Antetokounmpo swished an above-the-break three from 28-feet to make it 84-81. That gave him 40 points. But Tatum countered with a fadeaway from the baseline as the shot clock expired to make it 87-81 Celtics.
After that, Connaughton got a reverse layup to pull Milwaukee within four. But Tatum again answered, drilling a three over George Hill from the left-wing late in the shot clock to put Boston ahead 90-83 with 7:19 left.
Smart then drove and got the ball to Tatum for a gorgeous fadeaway jumper from seven feet to extend the road team’s advantage to 92-83.
On the ensuing Bucks possession, Smart tried to sell the contact and draw a charge against Antetokounmpo, but there was no call on the play, and Antetokounmpo threw down a dunk to make it 92-85 with 6:32 remaining.
But after another Connaughton layup, Tatum stayed hot with his seventh three of the game, again connecting from the left-wing, giving him 41 points and the last 11 for the Celtics. It also gave them a 95-87 lead with 5:40 to play.
Boston then got a stop and took a timeout. Afterward, Brown swished a three from up top to push Boston’s advantage to 98-87 with 5:12 left.
Smart then buried a deep two as the shot clock wound down to put Boston on top 100-87 with 4:20 to go.
With 2:38 left, Tatum charged downhill, recognizing the lack of rim protection for Milwaukee as Connaughton was the closest defender to the cup. He elevated for a layup plus the foul, then made the free throw to put the Celtics ahead 103-89.
Holiday responded with a three to get the Bucks within 11, 103-92, with 2:29 on the clock. But Tatum earned another trip to the line after that, where he went 2/2. Shortly after that, both teams emptied their benches.
Celtics fans wanted a Jayson Tatum legacy game, and they got it. He finished with 46 points on 17/32 shooting, including 7/15 on threes, and he went 5/7 at the free-throw line. It’s the second-highest scoring output from a Celtic in an elimination game, matching Paul Pierce in 2002. Only Sam Jones, who scored 47 in the same circumstance in 1963, produced more. And Tatum did it with calmness and poise, allowing the game to come to him.
The three-time All-Star also grabbed nine rebounds and dished out four assists. Think about not just who Tatum did this against, the defending champions, who are one of the NBA’s best defensive teams, or that it’s on the heels of a devastating loss at home that forced them to go back to Milwaukee with their season on the line. But also appreciate where Tatum’s at in his development at age 24.
While Tatum carried the Celtics’ offense in the second half, scoring 28 points in the last two frames, including 16 in the fourth, they also got 22 points from Brown, who paired that with five rebounds and four assists.
Smart scored 21, had a game-high seven assists, and like Brown, he corralled five rebounds. He also did well defending Antetokounmpo for stretches of the game, allowing Boston to pace Horford and, to a lesser extent, Williams.
Speaking of Horford, he deserves a ton of credit for how well he’s guarding Antetokounmpo in this series. The former league MVP is in the same air as Kevin Durant, where individuals and a team as a collective can defend him well, make him work for every point he gets, and he can still generate 44 like he did tonight.
In their season-extending win, the Celtics assisted on 22/38 field goals and shot 17/43 (39.5 percent) from beyond the arc. Playing small with White in for Williams at critical junctures gave them another ball-handler, improving their passing and off-ball activity.
In Game 5, the offense stagnated, but as their lead slipped away, they also gave up 17 offensive rebounds the Bucks turned into 20 second-chance points. Downsizing to address the former, trusting his team to minimize how many times Milwaukee extended possessions, was a gutsy move by Ime Udoka.
Boston also produced 15 points at the free-throw line, only one less than the Bucks, despite Antetokounmpo going 14/15 at the charity stripe.
And after committing four turnovers leading to eight points for the Bucks in the first quarter, the Celtics only coughed up the ball four more times the rest of the game, limiting the hosts to two points off turnovers the rest of the way.
They also paired their hot shooting from beyond the arc with 34 points in the paint and ten extra chance points.
Lastly, Antetokounmpo was tremendous in this game, scoring 44 points, grabbing 20 rebounds, and distributing six assists. But Boston made him work hard for most of what he got and kept everyone else in check, holding his supporting cast under 20 and limiting the Bucks to 40.9 percent shooting from the field and 7/29 (24.1 percent) on threes.
What happens in Game 7 is anyone’s guess, and Game 5’s loss still looms large. But observers of this team, regardless of whether you’re a fan, should be impressed by its character.
Game 7 between the Celtics and Bucks is Sunday afternoon at 3:30 ET at TD Garden. Inside The Celtics will have content related to the game coming out before, during, and after. And follow @BobbyKrivitsky on Twitter for updates and analysis from pregame to post.
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