Celtics

7 takeaways as Grant Williams shoots the Celtics past Bucks in Game 7

Williams set a record for most 3-point attempts in a Game 7.

Celtics Bucks Game 7
Grant Williams of the Boston Celtics reacts after making a 3-point basket during the third quarter against the Milwaukee Bucks. Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

After the Celtics beat the Bucks in a dominant 109-81 Game 7 victory on Sunday, Jayson Tatum was asked about Grant Williams — the Celtics’ enthusiastic forward who fired up a new NBA record 18 3-pointers in the win.

Williams dropped 27 points and made seven of his attempts after a cold start — an enormous boost as the Celtics punched their ticket to the Eastern Conference Finals for the third time in six years.

Still, Tatum grinned as he thought about his answer.

“I told him don’t get used to that,” Tatum said. “But obviously tonight we needed it.”

Williams probably won’t have a chance to shoot 18 3-pointers again against the Heat in the conference finals — the Bucks were uniquely positioned to give up triples. Early in Game 7, they made it clear that they were fine with Williams and Derrick White firing from deep as long as Tatum and Jaylen Brown didn’t beat them. They kept Brook Lopez in the game to stymy shots at the rim, even though Lopez’s presence made it easier to stretch the floor.

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“Originally, it started to work for them a little bit, but then I started making shots, so they had to switch it up,” Williams said. “I think they put Pat Connaughton or someone else on me. So it was just a matter of if that’s how they want to play it, I’ve worked on my shot enough to be able to knock those down and be confident enough to shoot them. And I think my teammates know that if I get 18, then I’ll make 40 percent of them at least. So it was just a matter of continuing to execute what we wanted to do, get those open looks, and take advantage of them.”

Williams looked like he might have a tough time on Sunday — he started the game 2-for-7 from deep and pump-faked his way out of a couple shots. The Celtics — who almost universally seem to treat Williams as an annoying but deeply lovable younger brother — told him to keep shooting.

“I told him let him fly,” Udoka said. “They’re disrespecting you more tonight than earlier in the series, and that was the plan on him and other guys and really shifting and making them try to beat us. You saw it on the first one that he made and then he missed a few and got a little hesitant, and I basically said ‘Shoot the ball.’ Like, what else can you do? Stop driving into the crowd and take the shot that they’re giving you.”

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“It’s tough to get in your own head when your entire team, like 15 people, walk up to you and say, ‘Let it fly, keep shooting.” Williams added, smiling.

Tatum and the Celtics can probably convince Williams to tone down the attempts going forward, but they still are unlikely to hear the end of it in the near future.

“He broke Steph Curry’s record for attempts in a Game 7, so he said ‘two Charlotte shooters,'” Udoka said. “He’s going to gloat about it for sure.”

More takeaways

2. As a whole, the Celtics outscored the Bucks 66-12 from 3-point range. That disparity is nearly impossible to overcome, and sure enough, as they wore down the Bucks, the lead stretched and stretched.

Tatum helped keep the Celtics attached in the first half — he started 5-for-5 from 3-point range (he missed his last four). Payton Pritchard was crucial as well, finishing 4-for-6 from deep. After one of his threes, which put the Celtics up by 20, he could be seen screaming at the Celtics bench: “This is what I do!”

All season, the Bucks allowed opponents to shoot 3-pointers and zeroed in on defending the rim. They gambled that letting the Celtics shoot their way out of games would work four times in seven attempts. They were wrong.

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3. Tatum picked up his fourth foul midway through the third quarter, and the Celtics — who were up 12 at the time — sat him down quickly. During that stretch, the Celtics actually increased their lead to 15 before the end of the quarter. By the time Tatum returned, Antetokounmpo looked exhausted and the rest of the Bucks appeared spent.

“Defensively, I think that’s what held our ground,” Brown said. “I think we had some big stops in that third-quarter stretch, we got a lot of big stops that helped us maintain the lead and actually push it out a little bit. But we also got some big plays from everybody, Smart, etc.

“I’ve got to be better in those moments though, and I look forward to that challenge.”

4. If you believe in any form of basketball karma, the Celtics facing the Bucks in a Game 7 at TD Garden is a point in your favor. The Bucks rested players on the final game of the regular season — content with the 3-seed and a chance to play the Bulls in the first round, rather than Kevin Durant and the 7-seed Nets, even though it meant they lost home-court advantage in the second round.

The Celtics — who played to win on the final game of the regular season and thus earned the 2-seed — punished them on Sunday, after dispatching the feared Nets in a sweep.

“This is what we played for, why we played the season out, to have home court advantage in a Game 7,” Udoka said. If you believe in the basketball gods, those things matter. And so for us, we played it out, and did what we did really most of the second half of the year — not fearing anybody and playing the way we have. So it’s good to kind of be rewarded against a really tough test.”

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“I’m glad we made the decision that we did down the line and going forward we’ve just got to continue to play basketball, continue to be aggressive and look forward to each individual challenge that we’re all going to be presented with,” Brown added. “And I think ultimately we’ll be fine.”

5. Give Giannis Antetokounmpo his credit — all of it. The Bucks pushed the Celtics to the brink even without Khris Middleton, not because of Mike Budenholzer’s defensive schemes but because they have the best player in the NBA. On Sunday, Antetokounmpo was flirting with a triple-double after the first quarter, and he would have accomplished one easily if his teammates hadn’t gone 4-for-33 from behind the arc. He finished with 25 points, 20 rebounds, and nine assists.

“Giannis is the best player in the world — you can see why people say that,” Brown said. “He’s relentless in his approach.

It was incredible what he was able to do. They were scoring 80-90 a game and Giannis was scoring 40 of them. That s— is crazy.”

Here’s hoping this is the start of a lengthy rivalry between Tatum and the Celtics and Antetokounmpo and the Bucks, because at times, the showdown was truly electric.

6. Robert Williams was available to play, but the Celtics treated him as a break-glass-in-case-of-emergency option.

“We won two of the last three without him and had a chance to win Game 5 obviously, so it wasn’t like we were desperate to get him back,” Udoka said. “We understand what it is and wanted to take the cautious approach, and if we need to get him in, we would, but I would say a little bit of both. We were fine with Theis, Al, and Grant doing what they’ve done all series.”

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Williams has one extra day to prepare for the conference finals.

7. The Celtics now will face the Heat. Game 1 will take place at 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday in Miami.

“We played in the conference finals my rookie year, excited to be able to play against this team now,” Williams said. “Similar kind of makeup where they have Bam [Adebayo], Jimmy [Butler], the physical guys. They added P.J. [Tucker], they have a lot of toughness on that team and they shoot the ball well. We’ll have to be able to lock in and focus in on our game plan against them.”

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