Two nights after suffering their most excruciating loss to date, the Celtics responded with a gutsy performance in Game 6 to keep their season alive.
The Bucks made a late push once again, trimming an 18-point margin to four, but this time the Celtics stayed composed and grinded out a 108-95 road win Friday night. Game 7 is Sunday at 3:30 p.m. at TD Garden.
Jayson Tatum exploded for 46 points on 17-of-32 shooting – tied for the second most in franchise history when facing elimination. Jaylen Brown added 22 and Marcus Smart scored 16 of his 21 before the break. Giannis Antetokounmpo finished with 44 points and 20 rebounds, but the Celtics rectified their costly mistakes from late in Game 5 and delivered when it mattered.
“This game, we were so poised, executing, moving the ball and doing what we needed to do,” Al Horford said.
A hot start allowed the Celtics to get comfortable early. They moved the ball well and shot 8-of-15 from 3-point range in the first quarter. Smart hit four himself en route to 14 points, helping Boston build a 28-26 edge through one. The question became whether or not the Celtics could continue to live by the 3-ball – and for a while, the answer was a resounding yes.
Antetokounmpo racked up 17 in the quarter and hit all six of his free throws. The Bucks only had two assists, but they were able to exploit one-on-one matchups to erase an early 15-6 deficit.
The Celtics extended their lead to 53-43 at the half, as Derrick White scored 7 points in the final three minutes and took a huge charge that resulted in Antetokounmpo’s third foul. Tatum had 18 points, 5 rebounds and 3 assists, as the Celtics wore the Bucks down by making the extra pass and consistently hitting open looks.
Defensively, they resembled the team they have for the bulk of the last three months, holding the Bucks to 17 points on 8-of-25 shooting in the quarter. Milwaukee consistently looked out of sorts and largely one-dimensional.
The Celtics pushed the margin to 18 early in the third, as Antetokounmpo picked up his fourth foul. Milwaukee responded with a 6-0 flurry to slice it to 68-56 with 5:36 left in the third, but the Celtics still led, 82-70, through three behind Tatum’s brilliance. Rather than letting the game come to him, he went out and seized it, turning in one of the most electrifying performances of his career.
The defending champs responded once again – as Pat Connaughton sliced the deficit to four with 7:48 left – but a sizzling Tatum scored 11 points in three-plus minutes to push it to 95-87 Celtics with 5:23 to go.
Instead of slowing the pace down and playing passively like they did in Game 5, the Celtics stayed aggressive and continued to attack the rim. Tatum punctuated an otherworldly performance with an and-one in the final minutes, and the Celtics found a way to stay alive.
“Man, he took it to another level,” Horford said of Tatum. “That’s what big-time players do in moments like this. He’s a special player, and he showed it tonight.”
For more postgame coverage of Tatum’s clutch performance and the Celtics forcing Game 7, tune into the the Garden Report Postgame Show LIVE on CLNS Media right after the game. Join A Sherrod Blakely, Bobby Manning, Josue Pavon, Jimmy Toscano and host John Zannis for a full breakdown. Plus, the guys will discuss the clutch play of Boston’s backcourt, Marcus Smart and Derrick White.