Every great player has a few legacy games, and before Game 6 on Friday, Jayson Tatum had a few that almost qualified.
There was a time when he scored 50 points in the play-in game, but that season was doomed by the time the play-in game rolled around. A few weeks later, the valiant 50 point attempt against the Nets followed, but the Nets won that series handily, erasing the memory of it. There was the Dunk-On-LeBron game, but the Cavaliers won.
Friday’s game was a doubtful case. Facing elimination at the hands of arguably the greatest basketball player in the world, Tatum took on Giannis Antetokounmpo and won — a blistering 46-point performance that took the Celtics to a 108-95 win and send the series back to Boston for a deciding game. game 7.
“I was excited to play Game 6 today,” Tatum said. “This was a big moment for all of us. For myself and the team how we would react. Losing Game 5 would make or break us. I think we’ve shown a lot of toughness and growth by coming out here and getting a win on the road and just giving ourselves a chance. †
Tatum made seven three-pointers, but he scored in different ways: ten of his field goals were twos and he had several. aggressive drives in the paint that made up the rest of his offense.
Meanwhile, he also handed out four assists when the Bucks collapsed on him. The Celtics are increasingly figuring out how to free him if the need arises, but on Friday he did just fine even in isolation.
Antetokounmpo was also great – 44 points on 30 shots – but the Celtics held the serve and Tatum had an answer on every run.
“He went into a different mode there,” Smart said. “We saw it in his eyes. He was aggressive, he came to us: ‘Give me the ball.’ And we would give him the ball. He asked for it and we’re going to do it. Like I said, that’s why he gets the big money.”
Enjoy this moment, if you’re a Celtics fan. Not every franchise can watch a top 10 NBA player overnight. Even fewer can watch a homegrown star take on arguably the best NBA player and soar above the moment in the team’s biggest game of the year.
The Celtics are alive thanks to their superstar, and especially if they win on Sunday, Tatum’s performance in Friday’s game will be long remembered by fans.
2. Again Derrick White put in a nice, comfortable game, especially in the second quarter when the Celtics tried to build a small lead. White’s defensive prowess coupled with his ability to attack the rim puts a lot of pressure on the Bucks, who aim to prevent other players from reaching the rim. White is often subservient to their defense schemes, so his baskets around the rim are crucial.
White finished with nine points, five rebounds, two assists and two steals.
“Derrick has been great,” said Jaylen Brown. “He’s made big game after big game. We keep pushing and challenging him, putting him in positions to be successful. He’s just a top player.”
3. After being heavily criticized for his play in Game 5, Marcus Smart put together a neat, impressive Game 6: 21 points on 8-for-16 shooting, 5-for-9 from three through seven with seven assists.
Smart told reporters after the game that he hadn’t slept in two days, and immediately after Game 5 went straight to the Celtics training facility to clear his mind.
“That last minute, those last minutes ate me alive,” said Smart.
He added that Celtics coach Damien Stoudamire took him aside and told him to keep his head up.
“He was just, ‘I’ve never seen you do that before and I just want you not to lose faith in yourself because we need you,'” said Smart. “So come in tonight, I just wanted to go out and make up for my teammates and help them and try to get this win.”
4. The Celtics may have found something that really works against the Bucks in their lineup of three(ish) guards: Tatum, White, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart plus a big man. That group — which closed Friday’s game on the floor — stretches the Bucks and keeps one good Antetokounmpo defender on the floor. Even if Antetokounmpo goes off (and he certainly did in Game 6), the extra distance pays off big.
In the playoffs, those four players on the floor along with a big opponent beat the opponent by more than 30 points per 100 possession after winning their minutes by 18.7 points per 100 possession in the regular season (which is still was a total of 100 percentile).
“They’ve been good all year, honestly, with Derrick in the game,” Ime Udoka said after Game 6. “I’ve got four guys who can create, divide it differently and be threats and they defend it a little bit differently. They have another man to worry about other than mocking and just getting another man to start they put their best defenders on certain guys and it sets others free to break free, and Derrick was one of them who can go downhill and make the right play and start our attack with a little less pressure. So, love what he’s doing there with that group.”
It remains to be seen how that group develops during the postseason, but those four may have found something for next season (particularly as adding Robert Williams to the mix during the regular season brought them to +29.7 in very limited minutes. ).
5. The Celtics are now being rewarded for winning their last game of the regular season: This gave them home field advantage in Game 7 against a Bucks team that chose to rest and avoid the Nets in the first round. The Celtics have swept the Nets and now face the Bucks in a do-or-die in a raucous TD Garden.
“I’ve had a few Game 7s in Boston and I just understand and know that being in the Garden is not a place you want to be out and about in Game 7,” said Smart.
This is going to be fun. It starts on Sunday at 3:30 PM.
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