Celtics

‘Make us or break us’: How the Celtics responded to seize Game 6 after unraveling in Game 5

"We weren't defeated, knowing we still had an opportunity to save our season."

Jaylen Brown celebrates after hitting a 3-pointer in Game 6. Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Marcus Smart didn’t sleep at all between Game 5 and Game 6. He felt like he let his team down, and it didn’t sit right.

“Those final minutes ate me alive,” Smart said. “… I was really hurting after that.”

Rather than dwelling on their lackluster performance, though, Smart and the Celtics used it as motivation and came out with a vengeance in Game 6. Their lead nearly disappeared once again, but this time they showed tremendous resolve and earned a convincing 108-95 road win Friday night.

Celtics head coach Ime Udoka said there was “never any doubt or hangover” from Game 5, and he loved the way they answered their biggest challenge to date.

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“We let the opportunity slip away, but we still had a chance to make it a better story,” Udoka said.

The Celtics led by as many as 18 on Friday, but the Bucks responded to slice it to four early in the fourth quarter behind the play brilliance of Giannis Antetokounmpo and contributions from Pat Connaughton and Jrue Holiday.

That’s when Jayson Tatum — who poured in 46 points on 17-of-32 shooting — took his game to the next level. Tatum hit a series of step-backs and tough jumpers, but he also took the ball aggressively to the rim and finished in traffic. He outscored the Bucks himself, 15-14, in the final eight and a half minutes.

In Game 5, the Celtics were passive and seemed to think about the clock. In Game 6, they continued to attack. The Celtics didn’t turn the ball over once in the fourth quarter and were the more poised and unified team.

Tatum said the Celtics “weren’t defeated” after Game 5, but they knew it would make or break their season. He acknowledged that result was in his mind during the end of Game 6.

“Just how much it stung losing a game like that,” Tatum said. “Everybody had a bad taste in their mouth … We were upbeat. We weren’t defeated, knowing we still had an opportunity to save our season.”

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Smart said the Celtics simply had to “not be robots,” and he believes they were as poised as they’ve ever been. Once they had the right approach, they knew everything else would fall into place.

They were able to force a Game 7, back at TD Garden, on Sunday at 3:30 p.m.

“We were as close and as tough as I knew we were,” Tatum said. “… I’ll take us any day.”

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