Jayson Tatum is now not 19 years outdated. He is 24, and he has already skilled a lifetime of NBA playoff video games for the Boston Celtics, however none so legendary as Friday’s efficiency together with his season on the road.
The Celtics suffered a devastating collapse in Game 5, blowing a 14-point lead with 10 minutes remaining to provide the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks a 3-2 lead within the Eastern Conference semifinals. Not solely did a stellar season flash earlier than their eyes, however a legit probability to win the championship had flatlined. Boston confronted the NBA’s nightmare — an elimination recreation towards Giannis Antetokounmpo in Milwaukee.
TD Garden was silent. Celtics workers have been somber. “We gave it away,” mentioned Jaylen Brown, who exited an emptied area alone on Wednesday. Added their coach, Ime Udoka: “We gave up a golden opportunity.”
Tatum took a unique tact. He may sense the road of questioning in his postgame information convention was in search of some admission of defeat, even smiling at instances, earlier than reassuring Boston, “Series is not over.”
“I could come up here and pout, be sad, and I’m sure there would be a big story about how we’re defeated, and I don’t believe us,” he mentioned. “You can’t change what happened. It stinks, for sure, but it’s 3-2, and it’s the first to four. There’s no sense in being sad … because that’s not going to do anything for the next game. Always be optimistic and believe in yourself, believe in the group, that we can win the game on Friday.”
So, he did, totally realizing his all-time nice potential in a 108-95 win to power Game 7 in Boston on Sunday.
“This was our season on the line,” mentioned Tatum. “Leave it all on the floor. That’s the mindset that I have — the mindset that we all have — so I wasn’t going to have any regrets. I was just trying to do what it took.”
Tatum’s first 3-pointer got here lower than three minutes into Game 6. His second gave the Celtics a 15-6 lead 66 seconds later. Boston led on Friday night time for all however 3:42 of the primary quarter, when Antetokounmpo made clear he wouldn’t make the Celtics’ process any simpler than near-impossible. But Tatum answered each name.
“That’s why he gets paid the big bucks,” Celtics teammate Marcus Smart informed reporters. “That’s it, right there, for moments like that. I was telling him the whole game, ‘Just be you, man,’ and he was.”
He began 4 for 4 from 3-point vary. He drove for layups previous Jrue Holiday, over Brook Lopez and thru every other Bucks who dared defend him. He had 18 factors on the half, matching Antetokounmpo bucket for bucket. Tatum added 12 extra within the third quarter, the final two of which tickled the twine on a step-back 23-footer in Bobby Portis‘ huge eyes and gave Boston an 82-68 edge within the remaining seconds of the third quarter.
Tatum opened his bag, eliminated the contents and gave Milwaukee every part he had.
“I was excited to play today,” he mentioned. “This is a big moment for all of us, for myself and the team, just how we would respond. Losing Game 5 was either going to make us or break us, and I think we showed a lot of toughness and growth, coming out here and getting the win on the road and giving ourselves a chance.”
But this was Antetokounmpo’s home, and he was making an attempt to inform his guests they have been now not welcome. The reigning Finals MVP had 32 factors of his personal by three quarters. He had his 40 early within the fourth, when his 3-pointer slashed Boston’s erstwhile 18-point result in 85-81. It was all too paying homage to his 3 that turned Milwaukee’s fourth-quarter comeback in Game 5 and downright mirrored his 50-point Game 6 that closed out the Phoenix Suns within the 2021 Finals, right down to his near-perfect night time from the free-throw line.
Only, Tatum withstood Antetokounmpo’s barrage and delivered the knockout. He scored Boston’s subsequent 10 factors, half of which he delivered with contested jumpers because the shot clock expired, to push the lead again to 95-87. Milwaukee couldn’t get off the mat. Four straight Tatum free throws amped the result in 13 within two minutes and gave him 46 factors on the night time. The Bucks threw within the towel and pulled their starters.
“You’ve got to give him credit,” mentioned Antetokounmpo. “He played unbelievable. He led his team to a win. He made a lot of tough shots. As a team, we were doing a good job being in front of him, making him shoot contested 3s, contested 2s, but he made them, and you’ve got to respect that. He played unbelievable.”
Only Wilt Chamberlain has scored extra factors in victory when dealing with elimination after the primary spherical earlier than his twenty fifth birthday. Chamberlain netted 50 factors towards Bill Russell’s Celtics in Game 5 of the 1960 Eastern Conference finals. He didn’t match the hassle in a Game 6 loss two days later. That is Tatum’s project in Game 7 towards Antetokounmpo’s Bucks on Sunday. A title shot and greatness awaits on the opposite facet.
And Tatum is taking his similar reassuring perspective residence to Boston.
“I’m looking forward to it, truly,” he mentioned some 36 hours earlier than tipoff. “Just winning this game and giving ourselves a chance to go back, this is it. It’s do or die, and it’s going to be fun. This is supposed to be fun. It’s basketball. Biggest moments, biggest stage, and when it boils down, I just go out there and have fun.”
Tatum went toe to toe with LeBron James as a rookie in Game 7 of the 2018 Eastern Conference finals. He scored 50 factors reverse Kevin Durant in final season’s playoffs and swept his Brooklyn Nets this yr. And he simply out-dueled Giannis Antetokounmpo in a street elimination recreation. He has given the three biggest gamers of their era all they may deal with. Jayson Tatum is not 19 anymore. He’s an NBA famous person.
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