The Boston Celtics seemed to be down and out immediately after their 110-107 Game 5 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks. They managed to throw away a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter and home-court advantage in what quickly became a best of three series after the two sides split the first four games of the series. May expected them to roll over and die in Game 6, with the series shifting back to the Fiserv Forum.
And just when it looked like the Bucks were gearing up to make another substantial fourth-quarter run to stun the Celtics last night, Jayson Tatum stepped up and ensured that would not happen again. Instead, Tatum kept Milwaukee at bay time and time again with huge baskets, most of which were not easy shots, and ended up finishing the final frame with 16 of his game-high 46 points.
"That's why he gets paid the big bucks," Celtics guard Marcus Smart said. "That's it right there. For moments like that. I was telling him the whole game, 'Just be you, man.' He was. That's what he gets paid to do. That's what we lean on him to do." Marcus Smart, ESPN
Jayson Tatum turned in a superstar performance when the Boston Celtics needed him the most
For most of the Celtics/Bucks series, the focus has been on Giannis Antetokounmpo and his scoring exploits. But for the first time last night, someone on Boston outdueled Giannis, and it just happened to be Tatum. Boston picked up their first two wins of the series on the back of collective team efforts, but Game 6 was all about Tatum and Antetokounmpo, and Tatum was able to come out on top this time around.
Once again, the C's built up a 14-point lead in the fourth, only to watch Milwaukee quickly cut it down to four. But that's when Tatum stepped up. He scored 11 straight points for Boston midway through the fourth, and his shot diet consisted of a ridiculous deep midrange fadeaway, a tough one-legged jumper that hit nothing but net, and a pair of contested threes that silenced a rowdy Bucks crowd. Heading into the fourth quarter, Tatum knew what was on the line:
"Knowing that if we lost, our season would be over with. I was excited to play Game 6. This was a big moment for all of us – for myself and the team – for how we would respond."
Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics Twitter
It's safe to say that Tatum delivered. Antetokounmpo had 44 points on the other end, but it didn't matter. Tatum answered with a ridiculous make every time the Bucks seemed set to tie or take the lead. It's the same mindset the Celtics will need in a winner takes all Game 7 now.
The Boston Celtics' resilience showed up again in Game 6
The Celtics may be the most battle-tested team still playing basketball right now. At one point this season, they were 18-21, and they still ended up finishing as the number 2 seed in the Eastern Conference. And once again, their resilience came to light in Game 6 with their season on the line.
"We had the right resolve," Ime Udoka said after Game 6. "We talked about it after that game. We let an opportunity slip away but still had a chance to make it a better story, I guess. We felt good going into it because we played so well for three and a half quarters. Everyone was pissed about that outcome, but we knew how well we played throughout the series and let some things slip away. But never any doubt or hangovers from that game. We put it to bed the next day and look forward to getting back to the Garden." Ime Udoka, ESPN
Given the way Boston lost Game 5, it was clear that Game 6 would be their biggest test of the season yet. They had to go back to Milwaukee and prevent the Bucks from advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals in front of their home crowd. And they managed to do just that.
During the 2021-22 NBA season, the Celtics have overcome many challenges to find themselves heading into a Game 7 battle with the Bucks. That resilience and fight have served them well to this point. Tatum led the way last night, but he also got a ton of help from Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart, as both guys chipped in 20+ points. On the other end of the court, the C's ensured that nobody else on the Bucks other than Giannis was able to get into any offensive rhythm.
Sometimes that's what it takes to win games in the playoffs, and it certainly worked for Boston in Game 6. They seemed to be on the ropes after Game 5, but they managed to force a Game 7, and in a series that has been full of momentum shifts, the Celtics have all the momentum once again as they head home to the TD Garden. If they can overcome one more roadblock presented by the Bucks, they will have a shot to earn a spot in the NBA Finals against the Miami Heat.