With their season on the line, the Boston Celtics staved off elimination on Friday night, defeating the Milwaukee Bucks 108-95. The story of the game was Jayson Tatum’s electric 46-point performance. He hit the big shots when it mattered most. However, what flew under the radar were two top-notch performances from the team’s two combo guards, Marcus Smart and Derrick White.
Boston’s starting point guard got it done on both ends of the floor in Game 6. Boston’s drive-and-kick offense found him a ton in the first quarter, and he didn’t hesitate to make Milwaukee’s defense pay. He dropped 14 first quarter points en route to a 21-point performance on the night.
He was asked about his hot start after the game. Smart said that he knew he had to ‘set the tone.’ Just as ‘America runs on Dunkin,’ the Celtics Run on Smart. Both he and his teammates know that:
We go as I go. I’m the heart and soul of this team. My teammates say that to me all the time. And you know, I try to be that for them. The energy that I bring is contagious, and I know that, and I just try to bring it every game.
For a guy not known for his three-point shooting, that’s exactly what he provided the Celtics in Game 6. He shot 5-of-9 from distance, with four of them coming in the first quarter alone. But Smart’s influence wasn’t just felt on the offensive end.
The Defensive Player of the Year found himself guarding two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo more than usual. Despite the size difference, Smart held his own and matched up against Antetokounmpo more than any Celtic. The Greek Freak still dropped 44 points, but it wasn’t enough to earn the win.
When asked if the game plan called for him to guard Antetokounmpo, Smart said it didn’t. He noted that the Celtics’ plan is to simply make Antetokounmpo’s life as hard as possible whenever he has the ball:
The game plan was just, whoever is on him, just make it as tough as we can. I got matched on him a few times and just tried to do the best I can. Dude’s a beast. Seven-foot plus, and seven-plus wingspan, and takes those long strides. It’s tough. So, you know, we just want to make it as tough as possible no matter who was on him.
Smart was fighting the demons of Game 5 as he walked into Fiserv Forum on Friday. While he wasn’t the sole reason for Boston’s late-game collapse, his two turnovers in the contest’s final moments were the talk of the town for the last two days. During his post-game interview, Smart revealed how much the end of Game 5 haunted him. He admitted that it resulted in a couple of sleepless nights:
I’ll just say tonight to be the first night since that game that I get some sleep. I haven’t been to sleep yet. Right after that game, I went straight back to the practice facility. Just got my mind right and just tried to do everything I can to prepare for tonight. Make sure that we and myself bounce back.
With his performance in Game 6, it’s safe to say that Smart more than made up for his Game 5 lapses. He finished second on the team in scoring, led the Celtics in assists with seven, and played great defense on one of the league’s stop superstars.
But while Smart was nailing threes and dishing out dimes, White was getting into the paint and doing the dirty work. White’s shooting numbers (3-for-9 from the field, 1-for-5 from behind the arc) don’t tell the full tale of how impactful he was for Boston on both ends of the court.
After the game, Al Horford caught up with Abby Chin of NBC Sports Boston and praised White for his efforts, saying simply, ‘he’s a winner’:
Winning plays. Derrick, he’s a winner. He knows how to play. He’s trying to play the right way. I’m so happy for him, the way that he played tonight. He hung in there and made plays for us down the stretch.
White ended the night with five rebounds, with two of them coming on the offensive side of the ball. Five may not seem like a ton, but it was the timing of White’s boards that mattered. Three of them came in the final three minutes of the game.
On the offensive end, White was able to do what few other Celtics could - get into the paint. Milwaukee’s defense is designed to prevent easy looks in the paint. While he wasn’t able to work his way to the rim, White’s ability to snake his way into the teeth of the defense created easy looks for others.
On this play, White manages to get by George Hill, which forces Milwaukee’s defense to collapse. As a result, Smart is wide-open for an easy three.
White’s contributions on the defensive end were just as crucial. He was a menace on the perimeter and even managed to draw a charge on Antetokounmpo in transition.
A lot of big plays from Derrick White during the 1st half. This one may have been the most impactful, as he draws the charge for Giannis' 3rd foul. pic.twitter.com/nON2WWZ4kP— Taylor Snow (@taylorcsnow) May 14, 2022
Smart and White both came up big when it mattered most for the Celtics. They made plays on offense, crashed the boards, and even held their own against a seven-foot bulldozer. Now, it’s all about Game 7.
Boston’s season will once again be on the line this Sunday, but this time, they’ll be at TD Garden. Game 7 is set to tip off at 3:30 p.m. EST on ABC.