USA About: Celtics Publish: 05/14/2022 Edit: 05/14/2022 Author: Gardener
Every great player has a few legacy games, and before Game 6 on Friday, Jayson Tatum had a pair that almost qualified. There was a time when he scored 50 points in the play-in game, but that season was doomed as the play-in game rolled around. There was the Dunk On LeBron game, but the Cavaliers won. Friday's game was without a doubt. Faced with the elimination at the hands of perhaps the greatest basketball player alive, Tatum took on Giannis Antetokounmpo and won - a stunning 46-point performance that led the Celtics to a 108-95 victory and sent the series back to Boston for a crucial Game 7 "I was excited to play Game 6 today," Tatum said. Losing Game 5 would make or break us. I think we showed a lot of tenacity and growth coming out here and getting a win on the road and just giving ourselves a chance. Tatum made seven 3-pointers, but he hit in a variety of ways -- 10 of his field goals were twos, and he had several aggressive drives to the paint that made up the rest of his offense. Increasingly, the Celtics are figuring out how to free him if necessary, but he also did well in isolation on Friday. Antetokounmpo was also great - 44 points in 30 strokes - but the Celtics held and Tatum had an answer for every run. "He went into a different mode right there," Smart said. Like I said, that's why he gets the big money.” Enjoy this moment if you are a Celtics fan. Not every franchise gets to see a top 10 NBA player at night. Even fewer get to see a homegrown star take on what might be the NBA's greatest player and rise above the moment in the team's biggest game of the year. The Celtics are alive and well thanks to their superstar and especially if they win on Sunday, Tatum's performance in Friday's game will long be remembered by fans. 2. Once again, Derrick White put together a nice, comfortable game - especially in the second quarter when the Celtics tried to build a small lead. White's defensive strength combined with his ability to attack the rim puts a lot of pressure on the Bucks, who are focused on preventing other players from getting to the rim. White finished with nine points, five rebounds, two assists and two steals. "Derrick was great," said Jaylen Brown. He's just a great player.” 3. After being heavily criticized for his play in Game 5, Marcus Smart put together a decent, impressive Game 6 - 21 points in 8v16 shooting, 5v9 from three games with seven assists. Smart told reporters after the game he hadn't slept in two days, and immediately after Game 5 he went straight to the Celtics' training center to get his bearings. "That last minute, those last minutes ate me alive," Smart said. He added that Celtics coach Damien Stoudamire pulled him aside and told him to keep his head up. "He just said, 'I've never seen you do that and I just want you to not lose faith in yourself because we need you,'" Smart said. "So come in tonight, I just wanted to go out and make amends with my teammates and help them and try to get that win." 4. The Celtics may have found something that really worked against the Bucks in their three-guard lineup works: Tatum, White, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart plus one big man. This group - who finished Friday's game on the ground - is stretching the bucks and keeping a good Antetokounmpo defender on the ground. Even if Antetokounmpo goes out (and he certainly did in Game 6), the extra distance pays off. In the playoffs, these four players are batting on the floor alongside a tall opponent by more than 30 points per 100 possessions after winning their regular-season minutes with 18.7 points per 100 possessions (which is still a 100th percentile - total value was). "Honestly, they've been good all year, with Derrick in the game," Ime Udoka said after Game 6. "They've got four guys who can be creative, spread it differently and are a threat out there, and they're defending it little different. They put their best defenders on certain guys and it gives others an opportunity to break away and Derrick was one of them who can go downhill and make the right play and start our offense with a little less pressure. It remains to be seen how this group performs in the postseason, but these four may have found something for next season (especially as the addition of Robert Williams during the regular season took them to +29.7 in very limited minutes) . 5. The Celtics are now being rewarded for winning their final game of the regular season, securing home field advantage in Game 7 against a Bucks team who chose to rest and not the Nets in the first round to compete The Celtics have swept the nets and will now face the Bucks in a do-or-die in a rough TD Garden. "I've had a few Game 7s in Boston, and I understand and just know that you don't want to be out and about in the Garden in Game 7," Smart said.
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