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Jayson Tatum: ‘the game honors when you play the right way’

Jayson Tatum talked about the Celtics energy and effort in their big win on Thursday night.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Milwaukee Bucks Michael McLoone-USA TODAY Sports

On the heels of an underwhelming 130-111 loss to the Wizards on Tuesday, the Boston Celtics didn’t mess around on Thursday night against the Milwaukee Bucks. The Celtics came out determined, and it showed as they trounced the Bucks 140-99 at Fiserv Forum. With only five games remaining in the regular season, the Celtics trail the Milwaukee Bucks by two games with the tie breaker in hand.

While the chances of Boston taking back the one seed from Milwaukee are slim, the Celtics sent a clear message: it doesn’t matter where we have to play you. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown combined for 70 points and looked locked in as ever against Giannis & Co., especially Tatum. Scoring 40 points on 12-of-18 shooting (including 8-of-10 from deep) along with eight rebounds and an assist, Jayson Tatum was an absolute flamethrower against the Bucks.

“We responded well from the jump,” said Tatum. “That’s all I wanted, and we wanted that as a team, regardless of if we won or not. Just respond and play better than we did last game.”

When asked what stood out to him the most during their win over Milwaukee, Tatum said, “I think we had a sense of urgency about us from the beginning. Honestly, we just shot the ball a lot better than we did last game, that played a huge part.”

Based on some of the losses the Celtics have had this season, it’s easy to say that when they bring their best effort and focus, they can play anyone off the floor. The caveat is that the Celtics don’t always bring that same effort, specifically against lesser opponents, and have a tendency to play down to them with mixed results. Boston has had some ugly losses to teams below their weight class, but Thursday night’s game in Milwaukee was a reminder of what the Celtics are capable of and why they’re an NBA Finals contender.

“I think the game honors when you play the right way.” said Tatum. “When you approach it the right way, and that’s what we did tonight, regardless of who we were playing. Last game was a bad loss all around, and we came in more focused, more locked in from the beginning and played better.”

The atmosphere felt like the postseason, and for these two teams, the consensus is they’ll meet again down the line in the Eastern Conference Finals. Boston and Milwaukee are familiar foes at this point, with many head-to-head playoff matchups under their belts as recently as last year in the second round; the Celtics defeated the Bucks in Game 7 at TD Garden.

“We’ve got a lot of history with them,” said Tatum, “Very familiar with them. Tonight, we shot the ball well, they didn’t shoot it well...if we play them again in the postseason, it’s probably not going to be like this. They feel like they probably could have played a lot better, and they missed a lot of open shots. So that’s some things we probably have got to clean up.”

If seeding stays the same, these two teams seem to be on a collision course in the playoffs, as both Boston and Milwaukee have separated themselves from the rest of the pack in the East. Both squads have an MVP candidate in Tatum and Antetokounmpo that are capable of taking over a game and willing their team to victory when the pressure is the highest. Regardless of how any hypothetical playoff matchup would pan out, it would make for some incredible basketball.

The Celtics will have a quick turnaround, as they return back home to TD Garden to take on the Utah Jazz on the second night of their back-to-back. On how the team needs to approach Friday night’s game, Jayson Tatum said, “we gotta come out with the same energy tomorrow. We can’t let it waver from opponent to opponent. That will determine how far we can go in the playoffs.”

Boston’s stars seem locked in as ever to close out the season strong, regardless of where they fall in the seeding. Celtics-Jazz tips off at 7:30 pm EST.

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