Jayson Tatum records a legacy game: 5 takeaways from Celtics vs. Bucks Game 6

Tatum scored 46 points and out-dueled perhaps the NBA's best player.

Celtics Bucks Game 6
Jayson Tatum of the Boston Celtics is defended by Bobby Portis of the Milwaukee Bucks during the second quarter in Game Six. Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Every great player has a few legacy games, and before Game 6 on Friday, Jayson Tatum had a couple that nearly qualified.

There was the time he scored 50 points in the play-in game, but that season was doomed by the time the play-in game rolled around. There was the valiant 50-point effort against the Nets that followed a few weeks later, but the Nets won that series handily, which erased the memory of it. There was the Dunk-On-LeBron game, but the Cavaliers won.

Friday’s game was a no-doubter. Facing elimination at the hands of perhaps the greatest basketball player on the planet, Tatum squared up with Giannis Antetokounmpo and won — a blistering 46-point performance that lifted the Celtics to a 108-95 victory and sent the series back to Boston for a decisive Game 7.


“I was excited to play today, Game 6,” Tatum said. “This was a big moment, for all of us. For myself, and the team just how we would respond. Losing Game 5 was going to make us or break us. I think we showed a lot of toughness and growth coming out here and getting a win on the road and just giving ourself a chance.”

Tatum made seven 3-pointers, but he scored in a variety of ways — 10 of his field goals were twos, and he had several aggressive drives into the paint that set up the rest of his offense.

Meanwhile, he dished out four assists as well when the Bucks collapsed on him. Increasingly, the Celtics are figuring out how to free him when necessary, but he did fine even in isolation on Friday.

Antetokounmpo was great too — 44 points on 30 shots — but the Celtics held serve, and Tatum had an answer for every run.

“He went into another mode right there,” Smart said. “We saw it in his eyes. He was aggressive, he was coming to us: ‘Give me the ball.’ And we’d give him the ball. He asked for it, and that’s what we’re going to do. Like I said, that’s why he gets paid the big bucks.”


Savor this moment, if you’re a Celtics fan. Not every franchise gets to watch a top-10 NBA player on a nightly basis. Even fewer get to watch a homegrown star face off against perhaps the NBA’s best player and rise above the moment in the team’s biggest game of the year.

The Celtics are still alive thanks to their superstar, and particularly if they win on Sunday, Tatum’s performance in Friday’s game is going to stick with fans for a long time.

More takeaways

2. Once again, Derrick White put together a nice, comfortable game — particularly in the second quarter as the Celtics tried to build a little bit of a lead. White’s defensive prowess combined with his ability to attack the rim puts a lot of pressure on the Bucks, who are focused on preventing other players from reaching the rim. White is often secondary to their defensive schemes, so his baskets around the rim are crucial.

White finished with nine points, five rebounds, two assists and two steals.

“Derrick has been great,” Jaylen Brown said. “He’s made big play after big play. We continue to push him and challenge him, put him in positions to be successful. He just a big-time player.”


3. After being criticized heavily for his play in Game 5, Marcus Smart put together a tidy, impressive Game 6 — 21 points on 8-for-16 shooting, 5-for-9 from three to go with seven assists.

Smart told reporters after the game he hadn’t slept in two days, and immediately after Game 5, he went directly to the Celtics’ training facility to get his mind right.

“That final minute, those final minutes ate me alive,” Smart said.

He added that Celtics coach Damien Stoudamire pulled him aside and told him to keep his head up.

“He was just, ‘I’ve never seen you do that and I just want you to not to lose confidence in yourself because we need you,'” Smart said. “So come in tonight, I just wanted to go out there and make up for my teammates and help them out and try to get this win.”

4. The Celtics may have found something that really works against the Bucks in their three(ish)-guard lineup: Tatum, White, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart plus a big man. That group — which closed Friday’s game on the floor — stretches the Bucks out and keeps one good Antetokounmpo defender on the floor. Even if Antetokounmpo goes off (and he certainly did in Game 6), the additional spacing pays major dividends.

In the playoffs, those four players on the floor together with a big are outscoring opponents by more than 30 points per 100 possessions, after winning their minutes by 18.7 points per 100 possessions in the regular season (which was still a 100th percentile total).


“They’ve been good all year, honestly, with Derrick in the game,” Ime Udoka said after Game 6. “Got four guys that can create, space it out different, and are threats out there and they defend it a little bit differently. They got another guy to worry about other than spot up shooting, and just to get another guy that can initiate. They put their best defenders on certain guys and it frees up others to get loose, and Derrick was one of them that can get downhill and make the right play and initiate our offense with a little less pressure. So, love what he’s doing out there with that group.”

It remains to be seen how that group evolves during the postseason, but those four may have found something for next season (especially since adding Robert Williams to the mix during the regular season bumped them up to +29.7 in very limited minutes).

5. The Celtics are now rewarded for winning their last game of the regular season: In doing so, they clinched home-court advantage in Game 7 against a Bucks team that opted to rest and avoid facing the Nets in the first round. The Celtics swept the Nets and now will face the Bucks in a do-or-die at a raucous TD Garden.

“I’ve had a few Game 7s in Boston, and I just understand and know that being in the Garden is not a place you want to be on the road in Game 7,” Smart said.

This is going to be fun. It starts at 3:30 p.m. on Sunday.


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