In one of the most physical series the NBA has seen in years, with probably the best player in the world on one side and a budding superstar on the other, and a pair of title contenders throwing hay after hay , the dauntingly beautiful playoff game between the Celtics and Bucks could only end one way: Game 7.
Jayson Tatum wanted Boston to get to this point with a season-high 46 points, nine rebounds and four assists to lift the Celtics to a 108-95 win over Milwaukee in Game 6. The Bucks got their own incredible performance from Giannis Antetokounmpo, who had 44 points, 20 rebounds and six assists in the losing effort.
With Game 6 of this fantasy series on the books, we’ve outlined six key takeaways from Boston’s win.
Jrue Holiday rushed a bunch of shots
We all understand that everyone on the Milwaukee roster, from Antetokounmpo down, is being asked to contribute more offensively with Khris Middleton, the Bucks All-Star and second fiddle, sidelined this round.
Holiday was easily the player with the biggest increase in shot attempts without his running mate, taking 20 shots in Game 1, 20 in Game 2, 30 tries in Game 3, 22 attempts in Game 4 and 24 in Game 5. He took a streak of 17 attempts placement in Game 6. But it wasn’t so much the number of attempts he took; it was how rushed some of those looks were.
Sometimes he gave a challenged look that seemed to have no rhythm. In one instance, with Boston leading 75–64, Holiday was accelerating the ball off the floor in a 3-on-2 transition look with teammates from each wing. Instead of looking either way, or just taking the ball to the hole, Holiday stopped over the break and threw a triple that missed.
He finished with a simply decent line on that end: 17 points from 17 tries to go with four assists and one turnover. But in all honesty, maybe there was a reason he was rushing.
The Bucks’ offensive options are extremely limited
Among the more divisive stats on Friday night: Bucks winger Grayson Allen was 0 for 5 and 24 down at halftime, meaning Milwaukee had been outscored by 24 points in the 14 minutes he was on the ground up to that point. . (Surprisingly enough, Allen – just 4 for 20 in Deep’s series – came out and started the second half despite his terrible performance.)
Beyond Allen’s miss, reserve keeper George Hill also got considerable time, going 19 minutes without scoring. He went 0 for 3 from the field.
On a night in which Giannis posted the NBA’s first 40-point, 20-rebound playoff performance since Shaq in 2001, the Bucks still lost by double digits at home, largely because few of his teammates joined the party. And given that and the general trajectory we’ve seen in the series, it wouldn’t be shocking to see Budenholzer trying to further extend the minutes of wing Pat Connaughton – who shot 6v8 from the field and finished with 14 points in 33 minutes – in Game 7.
Another potential player who could be in line to receive more time in the deciding game is backup playmaker and rotational assist savant Jevon Carter, who recorded a fantastic clean score off the bench in the playoffs and is able to replace Hill.
Boston settled for jumpers midway through the third quarter
Earlier in the series, after Game 1, Celtics coach Ime Udoka said he told his players to be judicious about when and where to pull the trigger in depth, because they could probably get those looks frequently against a Milwaukee defense. which gives priority to removing the painted area.
Despite that message, Boston pitched at will for part of the game, not only missing numerous jumpers, but also watching the Bucks run simultaneously.
Leading 68-52, the Celtics offense seemed to calm down, becoming much less aggressive for almost four minutes, from 7:02 of the third quarter to 3:06.
Boston’s offensive possessions went as follows during that time:
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- 16ft jumper missed by Grant Williams
- 27-foot three-point jumper missed by Tatum
- 28-foot three-point jumper missed by Jaylen Brown
- Brown shoots a shooting foul going to the basket, hits two free throws
- 26-foot three-point jumper missed by Tatum
- 27-foot three-point jumper missed by Derrick White
- 27-foot three-point jumper missed by Al Horford
- 25-foot three-point jumper missed by Tatum
The Bucks came to life as the Celtics gorged on bad shots
For as much of a struggle as Milwaukee’s offense has been, the club found daylight midway through the third as they grabbed long rebound after long rebound, using those misses to fuel transition opportunities, where Antetokounmpo becomes even more unstoppable than normal.
As Boston started the four-minute period with a 16-point advantage, the Bucks cut the deficit to eight, 70-62, getting a pair of buckets from Giannis as well as jumpers Connaughton and Bobby Portis, who each scored within eight seconds of Milwaukee grabbing the defensive rebound.
It obviously wasn’t enough to get the win, but quick baskets are godsend for an attack without many options outside of Antetokounmpo and Holiday.
Something to watch for in Game 7, based on the success he had on that run in Game 6: Milwaukee’s small-ball lineups with Antetokounmpo at center usually seem to give the Bucks a boost. This makes them more versatile on defense and considerably quicker on offense, with fewer players than the Celtics can comfortably assist.
Derrick White was huge for Boston
The Celtics were just as heavy as the Bucks in Game 6, getting 89 of their 108 points from Tatum, Brown or Marcus Smart. But don’t overlook Derrick White’s contributions to the contest.
White, a remarkably smart player, used well-timed cuts in the paint like this which freed up open shots for other players, like this triple for Brown.
He made one of those plays that absolutely deflates a home crowd to start the fourth quarter when he picked the Giannis pocket immediately after the two-time MVP grabbed a defensive rebound. The steal led to a Brown layup, allowing the Celtics to push their lead to 84–70.
And perhaps most importantly, White recorded a quick seven points after registering for the final four minutes of the first half. He fired a shooting foul with five seconds left before halftime, hitting a pair of free throws to put Boston up by 10, 53–43.
The burst was incredibly significant and gave the Celtics a cushion. When White entered the game just four minutes earlier, Boston had only gained three minutes.
Jayson Tatum has proven himself as a superstar
For everything White did, though, you have to give Tatum the most credit for Boston’s win. On a night when Giannis illustrated how and why he is the best player in the world, Tatum looked almost as good and didn’t back down.
As the Bucks close in, cutting the deficit to six with just under 10 minutes left, Tatum went to work, scoring 11 straight points.
He started the scoring streak by going to the basket and making a foul that put him on the line. But the next 10 points felt like a fucking clinic. A nearly impossible mid-range fadeaway with Holiday – a stud defender – draped over him as the shot clock goes off. Another left wing triple whistle-clock directly facing Hill, who despite being only 6ft 4in tall, boasts a wingspan of 6ft 9in. He then threw a fadeaway about 15 feet in the air, where no one could block him, before the shot went down and hit nothing but the net, leaving Holiday hopeless in the post. Tatum ended the incredible burst of goals by punishing the Bucks for assisting him with another left wing triple, as Connaughton came a hair behind.
The shot cut Boston’s lead to eight, 95–87, allowing the Celtics to breathe, though Milwaukee smelled blood until Tatum got the score back in that stretch. The effort was just enough for Tatum’s teammates to pick up the slack and finish things off. Brown and Smart hit jumpers soon after, giving the Celtics a double-digit lead, and Milwaukee never closed the deficit to single digits after that point.
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