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Don't let Jrue Holiday's stellar defense overshadow his clutch, crucial offensive skills

Vacation was all the Bucks needed since Khris Middleton's injury (Author: Gardener)

BucksRanked the No. 3 high school draft in Southern California, he dropped to 17th in the 2009 NBA draft after a disappointing freshman season at UCLA. Holiday quickly blossomed as a member of the Philadelphia 76ers, making his first All-Star team in his fourth season. Despite the success, however, he was not considered a building block for the franchise, and he was traded to the New Orleans Pelicans for two first-round picks just as the infamous Sam Hinkie-led "Process" in Philadelphia began in earnest. During his time in New Orleans, Holiday frequently topped All-Star snubs lists and was a common answer to the question, "Who is the most underrated player in the league?" When the Pelicans sold him to the Milwaukee Bucks prior to last season, the price for two first-round picks and two pick swaps was considered excessive for a player of Holiday's stature. All he's done since is continued to prove the doubters wrong, helping lead the Bucks to their first title in 50 years in 2021 and defeating them 5 within a game after a thrilling 110-107 ahead of their second straight appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals to bring Wednesday's comeback win against the Boston Celtics. Holiday has established himself as perhaps the best defender on ball in the league, especially in the postseason, and has pressured every variation of All-Star from James Harden to Trae Young to Devin Booker to Zach LaVine. His defensive prowess was never better illustrated than in the final seconds of Wednesday's win, when he spectacularly blocked Celtic guard Marcus Smart, controlling the ball and knocking it off Smart to give the Bucks possession. Then Holiday sealed the game with a steal just before the buzzer as Boston looked for a potential 3-point attempt. “Jrue, he's a damn good defender. Sometimes he picks up guys all over the place and he has his other times where he picks them up half the place. He's a guy who can change the game with his defense," Buck's big man Bobby Portis said after Game 5. "Marcus Smart might have gotten it from behind and it could have gone in, but I'm happy and fortunate that Jrue is there was to save the day." For much of Holiday's tenure with the Bucks, defense was the priority. With two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and all-star Khris Middleton as the main scorers, Holiday's steady offense added to Milwaukee's fortunes. But since Middleton's injury in Game 2 of their first-round series, Holiday has been forced into a bigger offensive role -- one in which he needs to be a real No. 2 option for the Bucks to survive. On the surface, Holiday's offensive playoff numbers in the eight games since Middleton's injury seem a little dull, especially in the efficiency department -- 20.1 points per game at 37 percent field goals and 35 percent 3-point scoring. In the series against the Celtics, Holiday's field goal percentage is down to 34.5 percent. Those numbers seem paltry compared to the regular season, when Holiday averaged 18.3 points per game on shooting splits of 50/41/76 Sterling. But you have to consider what the Bucks are asking of Holiday in the postseason. After 14 shots per game during the regular season, Holiday is averaging over 23 attempts per game in the Celtics series. With attempts increasing, coupled with the fact that he's playing against the league's top defense and being guarded by the likes of Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, it's understandable that his efficiency is slipping. Holiday needs to remain aggressive offensively even when his shots don't go in because it helps Antetokounmpo find some much-needed calm and open things up for the roleplayers. "His ability to shoot on time, get in the basket and finish, get in the middle and finish," Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said earlier in the Celtics series. He's not afraid to put his body into the Celtics' taller defenders, whether it's a post-up or a drive. In the conference semifinals, Holiday is averaging 15.4 drives per game, compared to 13 per game in the regular season. Watch Holiday isolate on Tatum and quickly attack him, using his strength to sidestep the taller defender to pull off the easy layup. In Game 2, despite a significant size difference, he showed no fear in attacking Al Horford around the basket. He's a great guy to have next to you," said Antetokounmpo after Game 5. And when it comes to time gains, Holiday was spectacular. In fact, it was Holiday, not Antetokounmpo, who led the team in the clutch standings in the postseason. In After five games defined as a "clutch" this postseason (within five points with five minutes remaining), Holiday has averaged 2.2 points compared to Antetokounmpo's one point. Holiday's percentages may not be great, but if you've watched these playoffs -- particularly the Boston ones -- you've seen Holiday make several big plays in the pivotal moments. On Wednesday, as the Bucks recovered from a 14-point deficit in the fourth quarter, Holiday went into isolation and hit a hard, contested shot against Smart. the newly crowned Defensive Player of the Year, who cut the lead to two with four minutes left, followed by a game-defining, unhesitating 3-pointer in the last minute to put the Bucks in position to finally win the game has evolved throughout the series consistently proven in the clutch. In Game 4, he somehow found Brook Lopez for a near-impossible alley-oop to get the Bucks to two. It was also telling in Game 3 when Antetokounmpo, one of the faces of the NBA and reigning MVP of the NBA Finals, willingly passed the ball to Holiday for a bucket with the Bucks by one by less than 30 seconds. Holiday again selected a stronger defender, pinned Tatum to the ground with his strong arm and then threw in a difficult flawless touch floater to improve his team by three. It's easy to look at Holiday and focus on his elite defensive skills, but the Bucks wouldn't be able to reach the conference finals without his consistent offensive aggressiveness and clutch playstyle. With Middleton out of the mix, Holiday gave Budenholzer and the Bucks exactly what they needed to survive. Obviously we're in Boston, we lost 14 in the fourth quarter. People would say everything is against us, but we're coming together," Holiday said after the Game 5 win. "I feel like we've done that several times before and we're going to live and die with it - us each other's backs, just cross your arms and go out there and fight.

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The Celtics are down, Game 5 was a devastating loss but they're not done yet

I stand by it. The Celtics are devastated and they are devastated. (Author: Gardener)

Game 5After the Celtics' rousing win over the Bucks in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals, which took place Monday night and suddenly feels like a month ago, I ended my column with this: "I don't know about you, but I am I don't plan on doubting [the Celtics] again until they're done.” Three days, a game, and a tongue-choking meltdown later, and you know what? I'm not ready to eat those words, much like the Bucks' Jrue Holiday made Marcus Smart eat the basketball on a hero ball layup attempt late in the fourth quarter. The Celtics are devastated and they are devastated. Oh, make no mistake, Wednesday night's loss - a 110-107 loss in Game 5 that saw just about everything that could have gone wrong in the final minute and a half - was devastating. I'll spare you the full autopsy, because chances are the various regressions, bad decisions, and affronts to winning basketball have been repeating themselves in your hung-over head for the last few minutes since you woke up Thursday morning and realized, no, it wasn't all a bad dream. Just for accounting purposes, let's note that the Celtics were leading by 14 points and 6 with 10½ minutes left with 2-11 left after Al Horford had an exclamation-on-the-win follow-up slam. They lost because Smart, who played a great game to the bitter end, made a series of bad decisions over time. In hindsight, the further we get from that, the more amazing it is that Smart had the discipline to miss the potentially last shot and feed Jayson Tatum against the Nets for the winning basket in Game 1. They lost because every youth basketball coach's repeated pleas to box too often went unheeded by those pros, to the point that Bobby Portis' go-ahead put-back of a missed free throw almost ended with 11.4 seconds left seemed inevitable. They lost because Tatum calmed down when he should have been attacking, Jaylen Brown and Grant Williams got lost on defense, and they lost because Holiday, Giannis Antetokounmpo and those Champion Bucks have too much experience and spirit to go around ever to stay calm. The Celtics should have won. It was arguably the franchise's most devastating loss since Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals, which is remarkable considering they've lost four Eastern Conference Finals since then. But if you're willing to succumb to doubts or dismiss them altogether, ask yourself a question about these 2021-22 Celtics: what was their greatest attribute this season? They were a mess for the first few months, winning just 18 of their first 39 games. This team knows how to handle adversity, self-inflicted and otherwise, and now they face their toughest challenge yet. Rather than take back a 3-2 lead to Milwaukee for Game 6, they will play Friday night with their season at stake. You'll have to deal with a rowdy crowd, the likelihood of Antetokounmpo getting every call, and a bloodthirsty Bucks team that knows how to put an abrupt end to their opponent's greatest ambitions. But especially at the beginning of the season, the Celtics didn't find it easy. And yet they stuck together, becoming united rather than fragmented, developing an us-versus-the-world mentality and becoming the most admirable and entertaining Celtics team since Isaiah Thomas and that cast of misfits and underdogs gave the Cavaliers a bout in 2017 delivered finals of the conference. You can overcome the devastation of Game 5. They know what to do: split the basketball and not turn into a slow isolation ball when they have a lead. Eliminate the careless turnovers (can we acknowledge that for all his strengths, Brown remains a poor passer?) and value the basketball's possession. The Bucks are an exceptional opponent, similar to the Celtics in terms of skill and structure but with a champion's pedigree. But the Celtics do not fear them. They could/should have won Game 3 in Milwaukee. They bounced back with a fantastic win in Game 4. It's going to be tough, the toughest challenge they've ever faced. But this is a team that ended its season about three months ago when it would have been so easy to write it off. It's understandable to have doubts about them now after Wednesday's debacle. Because despite all those mistakes and frustrations fresh to our minds, you know they won't give up. Get breaking news and analysis delivered to your inbox throughout the basketball season.

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Don't let Jrue Holiday's stellar defense overshadow his clutch, crucial offensive skills

Vacation was all the Bucks needed since Khris Middleton's injury (Author: Gardener)

BucksRanked the No. 3 high school draft in Southern California, he dropped to 17th in the 2009 NBA draft after a disappointing freshman season at UCLA. Holiday quickly blossomed as a member of the Philadelphia 76ers, making his first All-Star team in his fourth season. Despite the success, however, he was not considered a building block for the franchise, and he was traded to the New Orleans Pelicans for two first-round picks just as the infamous Sam Hinkie-led "Process" in Philadelphia began in earnest. During his time in New Orleans, Holiday frequently topped All-Star snubs lists and was a common answer to the question, "Who is the most underrated player in the league?" When the Pelicans sold him to the Milwaukee Bucks prior to last season, the price for two first-round picks and two pick swaps was considered excessive for a player of Holiday's stature. All he's done since is continued to prove the doubters wrong, helping lead the Bucks to their first title in 50 years in 2021 and defeating them 5 within a game after a thrilling 110-107 ahead of their second straight appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals to bring Wednesday's comeback win against the Boston Celtics. Holiday has established himself as perhaps the best defender on ball in the league, especially in the postseason, and has pressured every variation of All-Star from James Harden to Trae Young to Devin Booker to Zach LaVine. His defensive prowess was never better illustrated than in the final seconds of Wednesday's win, when he spectacularly blocked Celtic guard Marcus Smart, controlling the ball and knocking it off Smart to give the Bucks possession. Then Holiday sealed the game with a steal just before the buzzer as Boston looked for a potential 3-point attempt. “Jrue, he's a damn good defender. Sometimes he picks up guys all over the place and he has his other times where he picks them up half the place. He's a guy who can change the game with his defense," Buck's big man Bobby Portis said after Game 5. "Marcus Smart might have gotten it from behind and it could have gone in, but I'm happy and fortunate that Jrue is there was to save the day." For much of Holiday's tenure with the Bucks, defense was the priority. With two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and all-star Khris Middleton as the main scorers, Holiday's steady offense added to Milwaukee's fortunes. But since Middleton's injury in Game 2 of their first-round series, Holiday has been forced into a bigger offensive role -- one in which he needs to be a real No. 2 option for the Bucks to survive. On the surface, Holiday's offensive playoff numbers in the eight games since Middleton's injury seem a little dull, especially in the efficiency department -- 20.1 points per game at 37 percent field goals and 35 percent 3-point scoring. In the series against the Celtics, Holiday's field goal percentage is down to 34.5 percent. Those numbers seem paltry compared to the regular season, when Holiday averaged 18.3 points per game on shooting splits of 50/41/76 Sterling. But you have to consider what the Bucks are asking of Holiday in the postseason. After 14 shots per game during the regular season, Holiday is averaging over 23 attempts per game in the Celtics series. With attempts increasing, coupled with the fact that he's playing against the league's top defense and being guarded by the likes of Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, it's understandable that his efficiency is slipping. Holiday needs to remain aggressive offensively even when his shots don't go in because it helps Antetokounmpo find some much-needed calm and open things up for the roleplayers. "His ability to shoot on time, get in the basket and finish, get in the middle and finish," Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said earlier in the Celtics series. He's not afraid to put his body into the Celtics' taller defenders, whether it's a post-up or a drive. In the conference semifinals, Holiday is averaging 15.4 drives per game, compared to 13 per game in the regular season. Watch Holiday isolate on Tatum and quickly attack him, using his strength to sidestep the taller defender to pull off the easy layup. In Game 2, despite a significant size difference, he showed no fear in attacking Al Horford around the basket. He's a great guy to have next to you," said Antetokounmpo after Game 5. And when it comes to time gains, Holiday was spectacular. In fact, it was Holiday, not Antetokounmpo, who led the team in the clutch standings in the postseason. In After five games defined as a "clutch" this postseason (within five points with five minutes remaining), Holiday has averaged 2.2 points compared to Antetokounmpo's one point. Holiday's percentages may not be great, but if you've watched these playoffs -- particularly the Boston ones -- you've seen Holiday make several big plays in the pivotal moments. On Wednesday, as the Bucks recovered from a 14-point deficit in the fourth quarter, Holiday went into isolation and hit a hard, contested shot against Smart. the newly crowned Defensive Player of the Year, who cut the lead to two with four minutes left, followed by a game-defining, unhesitating 3-pointer in the last minute to put the Bucks in position to finally win the game has evolved throughout the series consistently proven in the clutch. In Game 4, he somehow found Brook Lopez for a near-impossible alley-oop to get the Bucks to two. It was also telling in Game 3 when Antetokounmpo, one of the faces of the NBA and reigning MVP of the NBA Finals, willingly passed the ball to Holiday for a bucket with the Bucks by one by less than 30 seconds. Holiday again selected a stronger defender, pinned Tatum to the ground with his strong arm and then threw in a difficult flawless touch floater to improve his team by three. It's easy to look at Holiday and focus on his elite defensive skills, but the Bucks wouldn't be able to reach the conference finals without his consistent offensive aggressiveness and clutch playstyle. With Middleton out of the mix, Holiday gave Budenholzer and the Bucks exactly what they needed to survive. Obviously we're in Boston, we lost 14 in the fourth quarter. People would say everything is against us, but we're coming together," Holiday said after the Game 5 win. "I feel like we've done that several times before and we're going to live and die with it - us each other's backs, just cross your arms and go out there and fight.

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3 things we learned from Bucks Celtics Game 5 on Wednesday

The Milwaukee Bucks defeated the Boston Celtics 110-107 away in Game 5 of their Eastern Conference Semifinals series on Wednesday and took a 3-2 lead in Game 6. (Author: Gardener)

WednesdayThe Milwaukee Bucks defeated the Boston Celtics 110-107 in Game 5 of their Eastern Conference Semifinals series away from home on Wednesday and took a 3-2 lead in Game 6. It's quite unfortunate that the Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics are included same conference because their Eastern Conference Semifinals series looks like an NBA Finals fight right now! In fact, two games have now been decided in the last minute of the game, and in both cases the Bucks won. On Wednesday night, the Celtics hosted the Bucks for Game 5 of that semifinal series that saw everything tied at 2-2. Boston controlled the pace of the game throughout the first half and they kept things lower as they went into the fourth quarter nine points ahead. Trailing 11 points with just over eight minutes left, it looked like Boston would run away with that game, but Milwaukee stayed on and hit some clutch shots to give themselves an outside chance at a win. After a massive offensive rebound and dunk from Al Horford with 2-12 in the game to improve the Celtics by six points, Giannis Antetokiunmpo hit a three-pointer and then Jrue Holiday with a three-pointer with 42.4 seconds left to end things . Jayson Tatum then hit two free throws for the Celtics to give them two points again and then Giannis Antetokounmpo was fouled, sending him down the line for two free throws and a chance to level the game. All Boston had to do was rebound here and they could possibly buck this game, but Bobby Portis grabbed the offensive rebound, put the ball in the hoop and gave the Bucks the lead. Perhaps the turning point in that game and series, however, came when Jrue Holiday blocked Marcus Smart's shot by 8.1 seconds. The Bucks were able to complete Game 5 on the road, earning their second road win of the series. They now lead 3-2 in the series and return to Milwaukee for Game 6 on Friday. From LeBron James' block on Andre Iguodala in the 2016 NBA Finals to Giannis Antetokounmpo's block on Deandre Ayton in the 2021 NBA Finals, so many of these games have ended up giving a team a championship. The block Jrue Holiday had by 8.1 seconds over Marcus Smart in Game 5 was not only an incredible defensive play, but it could also be a game to look back on and say, “This is where the Bucks have their second championship won in a row. Nothing comes naturally in this league and the Celtics could still win that series because that series has been so volatile, but this was an absolutely amazing game and Holiday let up possession a ball later with another spectacular defensive play. After saving the ball from Smart and Pat Connuahgton hit two free throws to put the Bucks on three, Jrue Holiday stepped in and stole the ball right out of Marcus Smart's hands to end the game, giving Boston no chance of overtime force. Holiday's effort and ability to read his opponents on the defensive side of the ball is truly remarkable, and the two games he made late in Game 5 were Championship Esce games. The Bucks are really missing Khris Middleton right now, but Jrue Holiday is a big reason they won the title last season and he's a big reason the Bucks have a chance to repeat themselves as champions this season. Milwaukee won Game 5 in Boston in dramatic fashion, but there was one key negative aspect of that game that stood out at the end of things, and it's the fact that Giannis Antetokounmpo continues to shoot three-pointers. This year he's shooting just 17.6% from three-point range in the playoffs and in that series against the Celtics Giannis is shooting just 4-21 (19%) from deep, including a 2-5 from deep in Game 5. The Boston Celtics are an exceptional defensive team and with Robert Williams III out with knee pain they are small on the inside. Giannis Antetokounmpo has had a ton of success in this series, attacking the paint and getting to the edge as he is now averaging 33.6 points per game in this series after scoring 40 points on Wednesday. His three-point shot misses and he plays right into the hands of the Celtics, taking more and more of them. They want him to shoot threes because the Celtics know there's a slim chance he can make them and for some reason Antetokounmpo keeps taking long-distance jumpers! Boston really has no way of stopping Giannis if he's constantly attacking the paint, so forcing jump shots out of him is a huge advantage for the Celtics. Milwaukee finished +13 rebounds in Game 5 and Bobby Portis recorded a total of 15 rebounds, 7 of which were on the offensive end of the floor. The energy Portis brings to the Bucks is unmatched by anyone else on their list, and his Wednesday rebound efforts are a key reason they were able to eke out a late win. Every single plank he conceded counted, and none was more important than his offensive rebound from Giannis Antetokounmpo's missed free throw late in the game. Robert Williams III's absence is obviously affecting the Celtics' ability to recover, but they need to focus on keeping Bobby Portis off the glass in Game 6 as he is key to the Bucks' victory in this series. Giannis can only do so much and with Brook Lopez not always a factor, the Celtics should be able to hold their own with or without Williams on the glass. If Bobby Portis has another big rebound effort in Game 6, the Bucks will win that six-game series. However, if the Celtics can neutralize him and keep Portis under 8 rebounds, Boston will force a Game 7 assuming their shots come up. * FULL VIDEO: Here's what Giannis Antetokounmpo said after Game 5: Giannis Antetokounmpo met with the media after the Milwaukee Bucks defeated the Boston Celtics in Game 5 of their second-round playoff series.

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Celtics reflect on missed opportunity to win Game 5 vs Milwaukee Bucks and how to approach Game 6

Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart all had a lot to say about how they let the game slip through their fingers — and what's next. (Author: Gardener)

Game 5“We gave it away,” said Boston Celtics star forward Jaylen Brown after the team's disheartening 110-107 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday night. “Believe Milwaukee, they played hard for 48 minutes. We played hard but we weren't as goal oriented as we needed to be," added the Georgia native, alluding to the Celtics' fourth-quarter collapse that led to multiple defensive errors - several while he snapped at the umpires, with Overt Looks for the Bucks, which allowed Boston's opponents to dig back from a 14-point deficit to win the game with a Jrue Holiday block on Marcus Smart. “We have to be the smarter team and do what works. That error, reminiscent of Boston's games earlier this season and into 2020-21, has put the Celtics behind the proverbial eight-ball as the series returns to Milwaukee for a potential Game 6 elimination contest. "We were hot," Smart said after the game, the mood in the dressing room after the defeat. How will the Celtics react to having to win two games in a row to progress and their season not ending? "We have to turn around and get on with it straight away," Smart offered. That sentiment was echoed by star forward Jayson Tatum when asked how Boston could recover from such a deflationary loss. "Just get ready," the St. Louis native explained. "Just play tomorrow, watch the movie, rest - the series isn't over yet. We'll hit the streets and win one, take one game at a time. "It's not like we're trying to win two (games) in one day, that would be difficult - we just have to win the next game." "It's not going to be easy," he admitted. "We knew this was coming in. They're a great team, it's not like we just found that out tonight, we knew we were coming in.” Despite the loss, Tatum still seemed to have an aura of confidence when he spoke, perhaps more so than other Celtics who spoke to the press. "I could come up here and sulk and be sad and I'm sure there would be a big story about how we were defeated and I don't believe in us. Or I could come in as I was - you can't change what happened. But (the streak started in the Bucks' favour) 3-2... There's no point in being sad or bowing your head because that won't do anything for the next game. "Always believe in yourself, believe in the group, that we can win Friday's game," he said. And while we've all probably seen the stats hovering in almost every corner as teams tied 2-2 in series, the winner of Game 5 won the series over 80% of the time, if any approaching game 6 will put Boston in position to win it, it's this one. The team is successful when their backs are against the wall. Boston seems to have the heart of a champion but also meets a team that was there with one of their own. That series, and maybe even the 2022 NBA title, may depend on which of these two teams wants it more -- and is willing to do whatever it takes to get it. This post originally appeared on Celtics Wire.

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Boston faces the defining moment of the Jayson Tatum-Jaylen Brown era after the collapse of Game 5

Will Tatum, Brown and the Celtics force a Game 7? (Author: Gardener)

BostonThen another, and another, and suddenly, improbably, the Milwaukee Bucks pinched her ribbon to take control of the East semifinal series. "We gave it away," said Jaylen Brown. Now the action shifts back to Milwaukee for Game 6 and one of the defining moments of the Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown era. The duo, who have been together since Tatum's arrival in the 2017 draft, have already hit a string of deep playoff runs together. There was the surprise trip to the Eastern Conference Finals in Tatum's 2018 rookie season, where they ultimately lost Game 7 at home to LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Those two defeats were frustrating, but they felt like positive springboards for a then-young team. The reins hadn't fully handed over to Tatum and Brown, and no season would the Celtics likely actually win the title if they broke through to the Finals — certainly not in 2018 against the Golden State Warriors at the peak of their powers, and likely not against the LeBron-Anthony Davis-led Lakers in 2020. This is Tatum and Brown's team truly, and it would be a huge disappointment if they were to bid farewell in the second round, even in front of the defending champion. The title race is wide open this season and there is a real chance for them to win it all. Tatum has established themselves as one of the best players in the league, Brown is an all-star, they get some of the best basketball of Al Horford's career, and they have an elite defense that was dominant at times in the playoffs. The Celtics were favored in the series and appeared to be the better team with Khris Middleton out. They've led in four of their five games in the last minute, and despite being 3-2 down, they beat the Bucks 522-508. They really could and should travel to Milwaukee to wrap things up and return to the Conference Finals for the fourth time in six seasons. Instead, they suffer one of the most heartbreaking losses in recent franchise history and are eliminated along the way. All this makes Game 6 fascinating. How are Tatum, Brown and the Celtics reacting? As Tatum was quick to remind everyone during his post-game press conference, "The streak isn't over." The Celtics have won once before in Milwaukee and are more than capable of it. But this group has never faced such a test and has never had to recover from such a defeat. "The biggest challenge of the year," Brown said. So we need to regroup and get our spirits where we can get a win in Milwaukee." Will they be able to muster the determination, focus and mental toughness it takes to win a Game 7 force "Or are you missing another opportunity?" Questions like these are what the playoffs are all about, and now it's Tatum and Brown's turn to provide an answer.

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Here are nine thoughts on the thrilling Celtics-Bucks streak

While the Celtics' situation may seem bleak, they are actually just 1.5 point underdogs in Game 6. (Author: Gardener)

Celtics-BucksNot much separated Giannis Antetokounmpo and the defending champion Bucks from Jayson Tatum and the Celtics in this Eastern Conference Semifinals series. MILWAUKEE — With a 3-2 deficit, the Celtics will look to keep their season alive in Game 6 of this Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Bucks on Friday night. · So what actually happened in that touchline inbounds game when the Celtics were down 1 point by 11.4 seconds in Game 5 on Wednesday night? Coach Ime Udoka said they hoped to get the ball to Jayson Tatum so he could attack a mismatch, most likely a switch that had him guarded by Bobby Portis or Pat Connaughton. But Al Horford seemed too late to put Tatum on the weak side and with Boston running out of time-outs, Marcus Smart was forced to improvise. He ran for the ball, caught Derrick White's inbound pass and actually got a step on Connaughton as he slammed for the rim. He just never saw Jrue Holiday rush in and swallow the try before pinning it from Smart and going out. Yes, Smart had time to pull the ball back out and get it to Tatum somehow, but he made the right call to capitalize on the short opening. · White has taken a few chunks for his erratic shooting since joining the Celtics in February, but he was invaluable against the Bucks. In five games, the Celtics have seven five-man lineups that have played 10 minutes or more together. The lineup of White, Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Horford and Smart has outperformed the Bucks by 31.5 points per 100 possessions. · The line-up of Tatum, Brown, Horford, Smart and Grant Williams, who started the last two games without Robert Williams, was used the most. Udoka appreciates Grant Williams' physicality against Giannis Antetokounmpo, but the Bucks star still mostly prevails. And Williams is just 2 for 13 from the 3-point line in the last three games. It's also concerning that he missed some candid looks in Game 5. · The Bucks were 40-133 from the 3-point line in that series before going 6-6 in the fourth quarter of Game 5. · Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer's decision to stay with veteran guard George Hill over Jevon Carter in the last three games has been a mystery. Hill made his series debut in Game 3 after missing a month with an abdominal strain, and his performances were chaotic. Plus-minus numbers can be deceiving, but Hill was minus 15 during his 13 minutes on Wednesday, and it felt like it. In other words, the Bucks have gone 2-1 in their last three games despite being outplayed by 22 points in Hill's 47 minutes on the court. The Celtics have been relentless in chasing the 36-year-old guard when he's on defense and he's failed to deliver on offense, going 1-2 off the field. The Celtics' approach against Hill was obvious, but Udoka was also transparent. "I played with George [in 2008] as a rookie at San Antonio," Udoka said after Game 4, "so I know a little bit about George and I tried to take advantage of that." Carter, meanwhile, helped keep Boston's ball handler throughout the win of Pursue Milwaukee in Game 1. He was plus-25 in 22 minutes that game and minus-2 on a 23-point loss in Game 2. One player makes life difficult for opposing guards while the other is being chased by them. · Although the Celtics' situation may seem bleak, they are actually only 1.5 point underdogs in Game 6. · Antetokounmpo was gassed in the fourth quarter of his team's Game 4 loss. But he seemed to hold his own better in Game 5, and the Celtics may actually have helped his cause. Boston has been focused on limiting Milwaukee's transition opportunities, and it did a fine job this Wednesday as the Bucks accumulated just 7 fast-break points. The Celtics, of course, would rather not see him step up for fast-break dunks. · When the Celtics brought the ball in from the long baseline, 3 points behind, with 5.9 seconds to go, they actually had an excellent opportunity. Wes Matthews fell as Tatum raced down the right wing. Tatum signaled for the ball and Smart seemed to notice, but Smart's second dribble upcourt was poor and messed up his rhythm. Holiday, always the opportunist, had little trouble filling in for the crucial theft. It would have been a long pass for Tatum too and Antetokounmpo, lurking in defence, doesn't need many strides to gain ground. The Bucks all-star forward has been sidelined for three weeks with a knee sprain and is gradually increasing his activity level, but even if he's almost ready, it could be a risk for Milwaukee to throw him into this intense, physical series without even attending participate in an exercise. However, if he returned in Game 6 it would certainly give the home crowd a jolt.

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With the Celtics coming from a 3-2 deficit, their blueprint for a comeback begins with Bucks

The Bucks also trailed the Nets 3-2 in the Eastern Conference semifinals last season before winning the NBA Finals. (Author: Gardener)

3MILWAUKEE — The Celtics may have all the right things to say after collapsing in Game 5 against the Bucks. They can say they squandered a "golden opportunity," they can't blame anyone but themselves, and despite an elimination match, they won't panic. All the pressure is on the Celtics, who return to Milwaukee at 7:30 p.m. for Game 6. Friday in the Fiserv Forum. Ironically, their opponent knows exactly what kind of adversity the Cs are going through. They've lost to the Heat in five games in the Bubble; They gambled away a 2-0 lead against the Raptors in the 2019 NBA playoffs. When the Bucks squandered a 17-point second-half lead over the Nets in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals last season — similar to what they did with the Celtics — the critics and critics were the loudest. Giannis Antetokounmpo was not seen as a winner and there was genuine speculation that Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer would be fired. The Bucks made an unlikely comeback from trailing 3-2 to overcome the Nets, including winning Game 7 in overtime (with an assist for Kevin Durant's toe at the end of regulation). That's the exact blueprint that will put the Celtics together 3-2 against the Bucks. "We'll be down," C's coach Ime Udoka said after the loss. “People will be mad at the result knowing we topped them three and a half quarters. The Celtics can write their own script starting Friday, but they're trying to get where the Bucks are. Milwaukee have demonstrated their championship prowess throughout the series, and it showed in full force when they came back from a 14-point deficit in the fourth quarter in Game 5. The Bucks have been a poster child of postseason failure lately despite the regular season's huge success. And every deep playoff run needs a little bit of luck. The Bucks got lucky when Durant's toe was on the 3-point line in what would have been a go-ahead bucket. But when Milwaukee thinks about his rings, all the Bucks will remember is the thrill of victory. That's where the Celtics are trying to get because they can only focus on Game 6 and beyond that. "I just think we didn't do what we were supposed to do," Marcus Smart said of Game 5. "The mentality was there to win the game and just fell short a little bit. Not executed like I said when we were supposed to. Comparing the situation of the Bucks last season and the Celtics today is not quite the same scenario. Milwaukee had Game 6 at home and then had to hit the nets at Barclays Center in Game 7. Venues will be flipped as the C's need to win on the road first before they can force a win-lose Game 7 at TD Garden on Sunday. But if there's one thing the Celtics have shown this season, it's their continued resilience. Rebounding from an 18-21 start to the season, they have shown some mental toughness in their wins in Games 2 and 4 -- both crucial contests where the Bucks had previously won the game. There's a blueprint for success and coming back from a 3-2 deficit, and the Bucks cracked it last season. The Celtics are now in the same unenviable place when faced with one of the best players in the world. But nothing comes easy in the postseason as the Celtics have a chance to extend their season on Friday. We don't have time to think about how we lost. We don't have time to say we lost and it hurts.

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The Celtics are down, Game 5 was a devastating loss but they're not done yet

This team knows how to handle adversity, self-inflicted and otherwise, and now they face their toughest challenge yet. (Author: Gardener)

Game 5Three days, a game, and a tongue-choking breakdown later, and guess what? Three days, a game, and a tongue-choking breakdown later, and guess what? I'm not ready to eat those words, much like the Bucks' Jrue Holiday made Marcus Smart eat the basketball on a hero ball layup attempt late in the fourth quarter. I'm not ready to eat those words, much like the Bucks' Jrue Holiday made Marcus Smart eat the basketball on a hero ball layup attempt late in the fourth quarter. "I don't know about you guys but I have no plans to doubt [the Celtics] again until they're done." "I don't know about you guys but I have no plans to go back to [ doubting the Celtics] until they're done.” After the Celtics' rousing win over the Bucks in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals on Monday night, which suddenly felt like a month ago, I ended my column like this: After After the Celtics' rousing win over the Bucks in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals, which took place Monday night and suddenly feels like a month ago, I ended my column like this: The Celtics are down, and they're devastated . Oh, make no mistake, Wednesday night's loss - a 110-107 loss in Game 5 that saw just about everything that could have gone wrong in the final minute and a half - was devastating. I'll spare you the full autopsy, because chances are the various regressions, bad decisions, and affronts to winning basketball have been repeating themselves in your hung-over head for the last few minutes since you woke up Thursday morning and realized, no, it wasn't all a bad dream. Just for accounting purposes, let's note that the Celtics were leading by 14 points and 6 with 10½ minutes left with 2-11 left after Al Horford had an exclamation-on-the-win follow-up slam. They lost because Smart, who played a great game to the bitter end, made a series of bad decisions over time. In hindsight, the further we get from that, the more amazing it is that Smart had the discipline to miss the potentially last shot and feed Jayson Tatum against the Nets for the winning basket in Game 1. They lost because every youth basketball coach's repeated pleas to box too often went unheeded by those pros, to the point that Bobby Portis' go-ahead put-back of a missed free throw almost ended with 11.4 seconds left seemed inevitable. They lost because Tatum calmed down when he should have been attacking, Jaylen Brown and Grant Williams got lost on defense, and they lost because Holiday, Giannis Antetokounmpo and those Champion Bucks have too much experience and spirit to go around ever to stay calm. The Celtics should have won. It was arguably the franchise's most devastating loss since Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals, which is remarkable considering they've lost four Eastern Conference Finals since then. But if you're willing to succumb to doubts or dismiss them altogether, ask yourself a question about these 2021-22 Celtics: what was their greatest attribute this season? They were a mess for the first few months, winning just 18 of their first 39 games. But Brad Stevens mended the squad, rookie coach Ime Udoka stayed tuned, the players fought their mistakes individually and collectively and they roared the table to No. 2 in the second half, then erased Kevin Durant and the Nets in a first-round sweep. This team knows how to handle adversity, self-inflicted and otherwise, and now they face their toughest challenge yet. Rather than take back a 3-2 lead to Milwaukee for Game 6, they will play Friday night with their season at stake. You'll have to deal with a rowdy crowd, the likelihood of Antetokounmpo getting every call, and a bloodthirsty Bucks team that knows how to put an abrupt end to their opponent's greatest ambitions. But especially at the beginning of the season, the Celtics didn't find it easy. And yet they stuck together, becoming united rather than fragmented, developing an us-versus-the-world mentality and becoming the most admirable and entertaining Celtics team since Isaiah Thomas and that cast of misfits and underdogs gave the Cavaliers a bout in 2017 delivered finals of the conference. You can overcome the devastation of Game 5. They know what to do: split the basketball and not turn into a slow isolation ball when they have a lead. Eliminate the careless turnovers (can we acknowledge that for all his strengths, Brown remains a poor passer?) and value the basketball's possession. The Bucks are an exceptional opponent, similar to the Celtics in terms of skill and structure but with a champion's pedigree. But the Celtics do not fear them. They could/should have won Game 3 in Milwaukee. They bounced back with a fantastic win in Game 4. It's going to be tough, the toughest challenge they've ever faced. But this is a team that ended its season about three months ago when it would have been so easy to write it off. It's understandable to have doubts about them now after Wednesday's debacle. Because despite all those mistakes and frustrations fresh to our minds, you know they won't give up.

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Jrue Holiday stops Celtics last 2 games, Bucks rush back and win Game 5 vs Celtics

Milwaukee was 14 points behind, 10:16 in the game. (Author: Gardener)

Game 5BOSTON — Giannis Antetokounmpo had his best night of shooting of the playoffs. And still, the Bucks were 14 points behind Boston in a game that could put the defending NBA champion on the brink of elimination. "Obviously in Boston you're down 14 in the fourth quarter, people would say everything's against us. Antetokounmpo had 40 points and 11 rebounds and made 16 of 27 shots - including a long 3-pointer to play 105-102 with 1:40. Holiday ended with 24 points, eight rebounds and eight assists and Portis added 14 points and 15 rebounds. The Bucks can reach the Eastern Conference Finals with a home win in Game 6 on Friday night. Antetokounmpo went to the line with a chance to equalize and made the first, then Portis snagged the second's rebound and brought it off the backboard to give Milwaukee their first lead since the start of the second quarter. Pat Connaughton made two free throws with six seconds remaining, then Holiday stole the ball from Smart on his desperate shot for a potentially game-changing 3-pointer. The Celtics made eight of their ten turnovers in the second half, giving up a 49-36 rebound advantage overall. "As a kid, I really wasn't very talented or really had one thing that I did really well. I've always been like a jack of all trades, did everything well but nothing great," said Portis. "My mother used to tell me when I was a kid to just be a garbage man. Being a garbage man means if you want scoring chances and don't let the ball pass to you, get the ball on the offensive glass. That's one thing my mother always taught me. Shoutout to my mom on that." Jaylen Brown scored 16 points in the third quarter — and 12 of them in the last four minutes of the quarter as Boston turned a 71-68 lead into a 12-point lead. It was 93-79 with 10:19 to play - Boston's biggest playful lead in the playoffs in more than 25 years. We surpassed it for 3½ quarters," said Celtics coach Ime Udoka. After scoring 40 points to give the Bucks a 3-2 lead over Boston in the Eastern Conference semifinals on Wednesday night, the two-time MVP asked Reporter out of the blue, "If I don't play after this season, then I will." still paid? Do you know how it works?" The Celtics were without big man Robert Williams III for the second year in a row - and fourth time this postseason - with a left knee pain. Milwaukee was left without Khris Middleton, who was on the court some has done work as he tries to come back from a sprained left knee. He hasn't played since April 20 in Game 2 of the first-round series against the Bulls. "He's done a bit on the court and we're feeling good where." he's optimistic," said Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer. Tacko Fall, the 7-foot-6 former Celtics player, picked up play from the front row under the basket. The Celtics only had two turnovers in the first half. Nine for the Bucks Celtics subs Daniel Theis and Derrick White made their first nine shots.

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