Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jason Tatum performed for the ages Friday night in their 108-95 win as the All-Stars crossed the 40-point plateau as the Boston Celtics forced a Game 7 game against the Milwaukee Bucks. Sunday afternoon at TD Garden.
Tatum was fantastic for the Celtics on a night they needed to be because he saved his best performance of the series in a road elimination game in what can easily be described as a hostile environment. Tatum outperformed Giannis, scoring 46 points, the highest level in the match for nine rebounds and four assists. While his efforts came in a loss, Antetokounmpo was dominant to finish the game with 44 points to go along with an amazing 20 rebounds and six assists.
Game 7 is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. ET on Sunday with ABC handling the national broadcast.
Here are three main points from the game:
1. Tatum gives one of the best performances of his career
Jayson Tatum hasn’t always been at his best in the series, but great players don’t let bad games or bad extensions define him. And Tatum has shown this season, and on Friday night in particular, that he really is a fantastic player. With the Celtics season approaching, he stepped up and put on one of the best performances of his career.
He got off to a strong start, taking two 3-pointers in the first few minutes to help the Celtics open an early lead, but his best and most important work came in the fourth quarter. Once by 18, the Celtics’ lead was cut to four with 8:42 to play, and the flashback from Game 5 was starting. Tatum made sure that there was no second crash in a row.
First, an amazing jump jump on the baseline to beat the shot clock. Next, he pulled 3 pointers straight at George Hill’s face. Then repeat the sequence with another fade and 3 more. Over the course of three minutes, he scored 10 points in a row for the Celtics and pushed the lead up to eight to give them some breathing space. Bucks will never come close.
“Yeah, obviously he hit some big kicks throughout the game,” Celtics coach Im Odoka said. “We did that and gave the right game as well…a long night before him, we definitely needed it.”
Tatum scored 16 points in the fourth quarter alone, ending the night with 46, nine rebounds and four assists in 17 of 32 from the field. Tatum’s 46 points were the second highest in franchise history when he faced elimination, joining Sam Jones as the only other Celtic player to have multiple 45-point playoffs.
“That’s why he gets so much money,” said Marcus Smart. “He went into another situation there. We saw it in his eyes. He was aggressive, and he would come in and say ‘give me the ball’. We gave him the ball, he asked for it and that’s what we’re going to do. Like I said, that’s why he gets so much money.”
Jason Tatum is still only 24 years old. He has a decade or more and maybe hundreds of playoffs ahead of him. It will be difficult for him to play better than he did on Friday night.
2. Giannis’ super efforts weren’t enough
The Bucks were already a heavy team before Khris Middleton went down with an MCL twist in the first round against the Chicago Bulls, and without him the problem would have been more obvious. His absence forced Giannis Antetokounmpo to take on a somewhat absurd burden, trying to carry the Bucks himself.
At times in the series he was able to do just that; Dollars won three games, after all. But even the best players can’t always do it alone, as Giannis and Box discovered during Game Six.
Giannis was brilliant. He scored 17 points in the first quarter to keep the Bucks in the game despite the Celtics’ strong start, and continued attacking all night. There wasn’t much the Celtics could do to slow him down, as he made his way into the paint for powerful hits and trips to the free throw line.
Giannis has been amazing to them,” said Jaylene Brown. “He’s relentless in his approach. He’ll keep going, and he’ll keep on attacking. His conditioning is great, he doesn’t seem as tired as the others. He just keeps coming.”
Greek Freak finished with 44 points, 20 rebounds, and six assists, hit 14 of 15 from the free throw line and became the first player since Shaquille O’Neal in 2001 to make a 40-20 playoff game.
Giannis had an astonishing 45.2 percent use rate — his highest ever in a playoff — and scored or assisted in 52 out of 95 points. It was a truly miraculous effort, and it wasn’t enough. Junior Holiday and Pat Connaughton were the only other two players to score in double digits, but they didn’t excel by more than 17 points. The Bucks have missed Middleton throughout the series, but no more than Game 6.
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3. Celtics show determination after the collapse of the 5 . game
The Celtics were supposed to come to Milwaukee to close the series on Friday night. Instead, they were the ones facing disqualification after a late crash in Game 5 that saw them lose a 13-point lead in the fourth quarter at home. Recovering from such a tragic defeat requires a tremendous amount of grit, self-belief, and mental toughness.
After avoiding elimination on the road, it’s clear that the Celtics have all of the above.
“I kind of think how impactful it was, losing that match that way,” Jason Tatum said. “Everyone had a bad taste in their mouths. Watching the movie, learning from it and eager – we were hopeful. We weren’t defeated, knowing we still had a chance to save our season and come here and win. We believed, we really did. We believed in each other and we had That afternoon.”
The work is far from over. Beating the world’s best player for the second consecutive game to eliminate the defending champions will not be easy, and the Celtics will have to regroup again for their seventh game at home on Sunday. However, a performance like the one on Friday night tells us a lot about the character of this group.
“This was a big moment for all of us,” Tatum said. “For me and the team, just how are we going to respond. Losing the fifth game will make or break us. We showed a lot of toughness and growth here and we’re winning on the road.”
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