BOSTON (CBS) — With the Celtics facing elimination Friday night, they needed a superstar performance from Jayson Tatum. That’s exactly what they got from the 24-year-old, who painted an absolute masterpiece in Boston’s 108-95 win at Milwaukee, forcing a game-breaking Game 7 against the Bucks in Boston on Sunday.
Tatum was electric throughout the win, scoring a game-high 46 points to beat Giannis Antetokounmpo (44 points) at home. Tatum scored 15 of those points in the fourth quarter, including 10 just after the Bucks cut Boston’s lead to just four points.
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No moment was too big for Tatum in Game 6. He shot 53 percent (17 for 32) overall and had five of his seven shots in the fourth. Tatum had his bag full of tricks working for him, whether downtown or outlying. He made seven of his 15 three-point attempts, and his fade was as smooth as silk. He was also more than willing to drive to the hoop and make contact, punishing the Bucks on the rim with seven marks around the basket.
“It was a great performance. Back against the wall, you like to see JT come out aggressively and carry us like he did,” Jaylen Brown said after the win. “Definitely a signature game for the Celtics and for Jayson.”
“That’s why he’s paid so much,” Marcus Smart said.
Tatum had 18 points at halftime, scoring nine points in the first and second quarters. He hit all three of his shots from deep in the first quarter, then started working inside in the second. He started the frame with a nice spinning layup, and added another a few minutes later to extend Boston’s lead to seven. By then, it was clear that Tatum was locked in.
He was at 31 points at the end of the third quarter when he finished the frame with a drive and -1 and a dirty step back two (originally ruled a three but later changed during the break) which won 14 points to the Celtics. .
After what happened to Boston’s 14-point fourth-quarter lead in Game 5, Tatum and the Celtics were determined not to let history repeat itself on Friday night. But as Tatum rested on the bench to start the fourth, the Bucks cut Boston’s advantage. The lead had fallen to six when Tatum returned, and to four after Giannis hit a three.
With the game — and Boston’s season — on the line, Tatum took things to a new level.
“I knew I had him on the attacking side. It just comes down to 5-6 minutes to go, it was our season on the line,” he said from the podium. “Leave everything on the ground. That was the mindset I had, the mindset we all had. I wasn’t going to leave anything there and have any regrets.
With Wednesday night’s sting on his mind, Tatum organized a clinic. He started his majestic run with a dirty fadeaway on an inbound pass as the shot clock ticked. After Pat Connaughton cut Boston’s lead to four with a layup, Tatum splashed in a three with the shot clock dwindling to push Boston’s lead to seven. His effortless drop on the next Boston possession led to nine.
Tatum missed a layup after a dunk from Giannis, and another Connaughton hoop in the paint made it tough with Boston’s lead at five. But Derrick White fed him on the wing, and Tatum calmly drained his seventh three of the night to make it a 95-87 game with 5:40 to go.
His stroke was his brush during this stretch, as none of his marks hit iron.
This Jayson Tatum 4th Quarter Takeover Was INSANE 🔥
Didn’t touch the rim once, neat 🎯 pic.twitter.com/E7W9RNDxu7
— Celtics Junkies (@Celtics_Junkies) May 14, 2022
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An and-1 driving with 2:38 remaining sealed the victory for the Celtics, and he scored his final points of the night from the free throw line with less than two minutes to go. That capped off an incredible 43 minutes for the face of the franchise.
Tatum’s 46 points are the second most scored by a Celtic in a knockout game, behind only Sam Jones’ 47 points in a Game 7 win over Cincinnati in 1963. He equaled Paul Pierce’s 46 points in Boston’s decisive victory over the 76ers in the first round of the 2002 playoffs.
It was the game his detractors said Tatum was not capable of having. He took the leap that some wondered if he could do it or not. Tatum took over in one of the biggest pressure situations in sports, with Boston facing elimination on the road, and turned in his best performance in a Celtics uniform.
On Friday night, Jayson Tatum was the superstar we knew he could be — and is — for the Boston Celtics.
“That’s what we rely on him to do,” Smart said. “He came in and did what he did, picked up the game in fourth and took it home.
“He went into another mode and you could see it in his eyes,” Smart said of Tatum’s fourth-quarter run. “He wanted the ball and we gave him the ball. We put it in his hands and let him create for us and himself.
Even Antetokounmpo was impressed with Tatum’s performance on Friday night.
“He was amazing. Knocking down hard shots, getting his places. He led his team to victory,” Giannis said. “As a team, I think we did a good job of getting in front of him and challenging the shots, but he got the shots, and you have to respect that.”
Tatum said he wasn’t trying to match Antetokounmpo, who also came through with an epic 44-point, 20-rebound performance. Tatum’s only goal on Friday was to get the win so the Celtics could see another day.
“I know when I got it. You feel this rhythm. But that’s not what anybody else is doing,” he said. “It’s about finding you spots, knowing the time and score, the game situation, being aggressive and making the right play.”
Tatum did this over and over and over and over again on Friday night. Now the world is waiting to see what he will do for an encore in Sunday’s Game 7 at TD Garden.
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“Games 7 are the biggest and best games. I can’t wait to be there,” Tatum said. “Winning this game and giving yourself a chance, that’s all. It’s do or die. It’s gonna be fun. This is basketball in the biggest moments on the biggest stage.