There was a time when the Boston Celtics’ season appeared in peril of crumbling right into a pile of wonderful mud. They’d a dropping report in late January. They have been scuffling by way of a sequence of accidents. There have been questions on whether or not Jayson Tatum may coexist with Jaylen Brown — was it time for the crew to think about buying and selling Brown? — together with inevitable critiques of Ime Udoka in his first season as coach.
It’s acquainted historical past at this late stage of the season, however price reiterating, particularly now. Why? As a result of on Friday night time, within the wake of a late-game meltdown earlier within the week, the Celtics have been dealing with elimination in Milwaukee. Outdoors of their cocoon, as they braced themselves for Recreation 6, the questions swirled: Had they blown their likelihood? Might they in some way discover the resolve to increase their Jap Convention semifinal sequence with the Bucks?
The Celtics, although, appear to embrace adversity. Maybe they’re conditioned to play at their finest when everybody else thinks they’re completed, a sandcastle about to be swept to sea. Down? Out? Their sandcastle is outwardly bolstered with metal beams, and so they proved as a lot with their 108-95 win.
“This was a giant second for all of us,” Tatum stated simply minutes after assembling one of many finer particular person performances of the N.B.A. postseason. “I feel we confirmed numerous toughness and development.”
There was little doubt about that after Tatum completed with 46 factors and 9 rebounds to assist even the sequence at three video games apiece. Within the course of, he in some way overshadowed Giannis Antetokounmpo, who tried to pull the Bucks throughout the end line with 44 factors, 20 rebounds and 6 assists. It was a sequence that deserved a seventh recreation, and the Celtics delivered. Recreation 7 is on Sunday afternoon in Boston.
“I consider in everybody in that locker room,” Tatum stated. “We now have what it takes.”
The Miami Warmth, who ousted the Philadelphia 76ers from the postseason on Thursday, are awaiting the winner within the Jap Convention finals, with the opening recreation of that sequence set for Tuesday. The Warmth should have been delighted to see the Celtics lengthen their sequence with the Bucks: Now these groups have time to bludgeon one another some extra.
“You bought two juggernauts going at it,” the Celtics’ Marcus Smart stated. “We’re beating one another up.”
The Celtics are grateful to be on this place after collapsing within the fourth quarter of Recreation 5 on Wednesday. That recreation may have haunted them after they blew a 14-point lead. Good, specifically, was livid with himself for making a few late-game gaffes. He recalled going straight to the crew’s follow facility after the sport, after which tossing and turning by way of two sleepless nights forward of Recreation 6.
“I really feel like I let my crew down,” he stated.
The excellent news, Udoka stated, was that the Celtics had performed nicely in Recreation 5 — till they stopped taking part in nicely. The successful elements have been there. They usually have been on show once more in Recreation 6, this time for a full 48 minutes.
Good was terrific, ending with 21 factors and seven assists and not using a turnover. Brown scored 22 factors. And take into account the contributions of Derrick White, a former Division II participant and commerce deadline acquisition who was far and wide within the remaining three minutes of the primary half. He adopted up a 3-pointer with a brief jumper. He drew a charging foul on Antetokounmpo. After which he made two free throws, lifting the Celtics to a 10-point lead at halftime.
However the actuality was that Good, Brown and White have been part of the supporting solid. The stage belonged to Tatum.
“He went into one other mode,” Good stated. “We seen it in his eyes.”
From the beginning of the playoffs, when he christened the Celtics’ first-round sequence with the Nets with a game-winning layup, Tatum has gone about his enterprise of elevating his stature as one of many league’s most ferociously expert gamers.
No, he has not been immune from the occasional clunker. In a slender loss to Milwaukee in Recreation 3, he shot 4 of 19 from the sector and missed all six of his 3-point makes an attempt. However within the three video games since, he has averaged 36.7 factors, 9.3 rebounds and 4.3 assists whereas capturing 47 p.c from the sector.
On Friday, Tatum performed a superb all-around recreation. He did greater than rating. Popping out of a timeout within the third quarter, he stripped the Bucks’ Bobby Portis within the submit, resulting in a layup for Brown and a 17-point lead.
Tatum additionally was capable of counter all the pieces that Antetokounmpo may throw on the Celtics, which was so much. The Bucks have been threatening within the fourth quarter when Antetokounmpo sank a 3-pointer. Tatum proceeded to attain the Celtics’ subsequent 10 factors, a flurry capped by a deep 3-pointer excessive of the Bucks’ Pat Connaughton.
“Clearly, I do know when I’ve it going,” Tatum stated. “You are feeling that rhythm.”
Nobody is counting out Milwaukee, after all. The Bucks are the defending champions, and Antetokounmpo is able to intergalactic feats. However with out the floor-spacing presence of Khris Middleton, an All-Star ahead who has been sidelined with a sprained left knee, Antetokounmpo has needed to do much more Antetokounmpo issues than ordinary.
He clearly wants extra assist from his teammates on Sunday, particularly in opposition to the likes of Tatum, a star in his personal proper.
Now, after a season of surviving and growing, the Celtics see nothing however alternative forward of them.
“We nonetheless have an opportunity,” Udoka stated, “to make it a greater story.”