A Boston Celtics team that was in 10th place in the Eastern Conference back in late January and fighting just to stay alive for a chance at the “Play-In,” found themselves back in the Eastern Conference Finals for the fourth time in the past six season.
They appeared in their 34th Game 7 in franchise history on Sunday afternoon against the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks and defeated them handily 109-81 in front of their home crowd. They knew taking down the champs and the reigning Finals MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo would be a task collectively that would have to be dedicated to the defensive end.
The 3-pt line was the difference in the game and used a 61- 38 in the second half advantage to cruise to the victory.
They made 22 from 3-pt (most in a Game 7 in postseason history) and head coach Ime Udoka got contributions from others not named Jayson Tatum or Jaylen Brown. “It’ll make it sweeter when we bounce back,” coach Udoka said after his team let Game 5 get away and fell down 3-2 heading back to Milwaukee.
Grant Williams, whose sole job while he was on the floor was to try his best to keep Giannis from attacking the basket at will and make his corner 3-pt, showed up and played his best game as Celtic. He couldn’t have chosen a better time to lead Boston in scoring with 27 points and have his career-high. He made 7-18 from deep and attempted the most field goals (22).
“For me it was like, they’re encouraging it, I might as well take advantage,” Williams said. “Each one as time got on got more comfortable.”
Tatum, who has led this team all postseason, showed up with 23 points and eight assists, but did have seven turnovers. Despite picking up his 4th foul with eight minutes remaining in the 3rd quarter his team was able to hang onto that lead.
“As much as it hurt to lose Game 5, I was looking forward to that challenge,” Tatum said. “I believe in myself, I believe in this team. I expected to play the way I did and for us to respond the way we did.”
Brown had 19 points to go along with eight rebounds. Marcus Smart had a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds. Payton Pritchard chipped in with 14 points off the bench. “We didn’t want it to be over,” Brown said. “We didn’t overcome all the stuff we did during the regular season for that to be it. .. At the end of the day, we wanted to come out, leave it all out there. I think we did.”
After winning a championship the previous year, the Bucks will come up short and head into the off-season trying to figure out how they came up short. They had Game 6 on their home floor with a chance to close the series out, and they failed to do so.
Their MVP Giannis showed up offensively, and was the first player to average 40 ppg, 15 reb, and 5 ast over a four-game span in playoff history coming into Game 7. But He struggled in the 2nd half.
He had a double-double in the first half with 17 points and 12 rebounds, and also led all players with seven assist. He scored or assisted on 33 of the team’s 43 points. The second half Boston made it difficult for the reigning Finals MVP. They held him to just eight points finishing with 25 points and grabbed a game-high 20 rebounds to go along with nine assist.
“Shots that I usually make wasn’t going in. That’s basketball. That’s sports,” Antetokounmpo said. “Sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose. There’s a winner. There’s a loser. You’ve just got to live with it.”
They were without the second leading scorer Khris Middleton (20.1 ppg) all series because of a sprained MCL that he suffered in the first round against the Chicago Bulls. I believe it showed more than ever in this game when Boston started to separate themselves in the 3rd, no one on Milwaukee was able to calm this team and get good shots.
“WE definitely could have used him,” point guard Jrue Holiday said about the absence of Middleton as he scored 21 points and had eight assist. “He makes big shots and big plays.” Holiday along with his backcourt teammates (Grayson Allen, Wesley Matthews) combined to go 0-13 from the 3-pt line.
Big man Brook Lopez chipped in with a double-double himself with 15 points and ten rebounds to go along with three blocks. The Bucks were a +8 in rebounding (56-48) but were not able to overcome the 4-33 from 3-pt. After the game, it was all love and respect between the two best players in this series. Giannis has a title, and now Tatum will try to lead his team to their first one since 2008.
Boston will now face the top seeded Miami Heat on Tuesday night. They won the season series 2-1. Boston averaged 105/ppg and Miami averaged 92.0/ppg in the three meetings.
Game 1: Tuesday in Miami
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