Jayson Tatum was not going to repeat the mistake. The Boston Celtics had a golden opportunity to seize control of the NBA finals semifinal series two nights previously, but they let Game 5 slide through their fingers.
On Friday, however, this was not the case.
Tatum seemed to have an answer for everything as the Milwaukee Bucks made a surge in the fourth quarter.
Boston won 108-95 at Fiserv Forum, with Tatum scoring 28 of his 46 points in the second half, including 16 in the fourth.
“That’s why he’s paid so well,” Celtics guard Marcus Smart explained.
“That’s all there is to it. For such occasions. I told him throughout the game to just be himself. He was. He is hired to do just that. That is exactly what we expect him to do.”
At three games each, the best-of-seven series is deadlocked. On Sunday afternoon, Game 7 will take place in Boston.
Celtics led by 14 points in the fourth quarter and by six with two minutes left in Game 5 before the Bucks stole a victory.
Celtics had a 14-point advantage in the fourth quarter on Friday night, but they made sure to depart with a different result.
Milwaukee trimmed the deficit to four points, but every time Bucks gained a stranglehold on the game, the Celtics’ bench began to reflect on what had transpired the night before.
Boston coach Ime Udoka said he instructed his squad not to get stuck in the fourth quarter as they did the previous game and to keep attacking.
Udoka said, “We had the correct resolve.”
“After that game, we talked about it. We squandered an opportunity, but there was still time to improve the plot, I suppose. We were confident heading into it after three and a half quarters of excellent football.”
“Everyone was furious with the result, but we knew how brilliantly we had played throughout the series and had let a few things slip away.”
“But there was never any question or lingering effects from that game. The next day, we put it to bed and look forward to returning to the Garden.”
Tatum replied with a midrange jumper as the shot clock ticked down off an out-of-bounds play after the Bucks cut it to 85-81.
Tatum responded with a 3-pointer after Milwaukee’s Pat Connaughton made an acrobatic layup. Tatum showed off his footwork by hitting a one-legged fadeaway on Boston’s next possession.
He hit another deep trey with 5:40 left to extend the advantage to eight. With 2:38 remaining, Tatum made a traditional three-point play to put the game out of reach.
Celtics’ collapse in Game 5 was on everyone’s mind down the stretch, according to Tatum.
“I think it was just how much it hurt to lose that game,” Tatum said. “There was a foul taste in everyone’s mouth. Watching movies and taking notes.”
“The excitement. We were cheerful. We hadn’t been defeated. Knowing we still had a chance to preserve our season by coming in here and winning. That was our belief.”
“Yes, we did. We have faith in one another, and I feel that showed tonight.”
Smart was instrumental in the team’s Game 5 loss, as he was blocked by Jrue Holiday and had the ball stolen from him in the final 10 seconds.
He stated he went to the practice facilities right after the game to get ready for Game 6.
“I’ll just say tonight will be the first night I get some sleep after that game,” Smart remarked. “I haven’t gotten any rest yet.”
Smart scored 14 points in the first quarter while hitting 4-of-6 from three-point range, as if he wanted to forget about his previous game as soon as possible.
Smart explained, “I had to come set the tone.”
“We’ll follow my lead. I’m the team’s heart and soul. That is something my teammates frequently remark to me.”
“For them, I try to be that. My positive energy is infectious. That is true. Every game, I strive to bring that.”
Jaylen Brown has seen plenty of great games by Tatum, but he knew this one was different.
Brown said, “It was a big-time performance.”
“We, too, have our backs against the wall. It’s great to see JT come out strong and lead us offensively, as he did in Game 7. For the Celtics and Jayson, it was unquestionably a landmark game.”
Tatum, Brown, and Smart scored 89 of Boston’s 108 points, with Brown scoring 22 and Smart scoring 21.
According to an international news’ Stats & Information research, the three combined for 82.4 percent of the Celtics’ points, which was the second-highest percentage by a Boston trio in postseason history, behind only Dave Cowens, John Havlicek, and Jo Jo White scoring 80 of 91 points on April 20, 1973.
After Al Horford’s performance against the Bucks earlier in the series, they’ve decided to play him closer to the rim, allowing the Celtics’ perimeter guys to get going, which Milwaukee had sought to prevent earlier in the game.
With the win, the series returns to TD Garden in Boston. However, home court advantage may not be as significant.
Four of the six games in the series have been won by the road team, including the last three. Still, the series will come down to one crucial game, which the Celtics players are eager to play.
“I anticipate a lot of noise. It should be enjoyable. And I’m looking forward to becoming a part of a fantastic game. It’s something I’m looking forward to,” Brown explained.
”Game 7 is the best two words in basketball.”
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