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The Celtics Put Their Nuts On The Table, Punched Back AGAIN And Now It All Comes Down To Game 7

Stacy Revere. Getty Images.

There are certain things that as a Celtics fan, you must accept. When you make the decision to dedicate your life to this team, part of that commitment is acknowledging that you are willingly joining something that is going to bring you to not only the highest of highs that are humanly possible to experience, but also the lowest of lows that you don't even know exist. When you sign that blood contract for life, it's in the fine print, you just didn't realize it. You didn't read it, I didn't read it, we just signed at birth and never questioned it again. There is a special kind of torture that comes with riding this rollercoaster and if there's one thing these last 35 years on this planet have taught me, it's that it is not for the weak. 

Think of what we're experiencing right now. The Celtics started this season and couldn't stop losing in horrific fashion. It made no sense how a team with this type of talent could somehow not beat the Knicks. At their lowest, they sat at 18-21 and in 11th place in the Eastern Conference. That's the type of pain that will change a guy forever. Apparently, it also changes a team. As a fanbase, it's hard to be lower than where we were not too long ago. The frustration was a never ending cycle of hell that showed up on our TVs every other night. Despite the pain, we showed up. We believed. Their mistakes were correctable, it had more to do with the team playing like assholes as opposed to there being a talent issue. They got healthy, and everything changed.

Suddenly, the same team that brought us unfathomable pain was the best team in the NBA, and with it came a level of joy I have not felt in 14 years. Every single night, they just kept winning. It got to the point where I couldn't even remember what it felt like to feel pain when I watched this team play. They put in the work and built a resume of a legit NBA title contender no matter how you sliced it. Their record, wins against good teams, road wins, offense/defense/net rating, it was all elite. 

Then Rob got hurt. 

The pain came rushing back. So close to the playoffs, for the billionth year in a row, we were going to have to live with another injury to a key player. Every year this shit happens to the point where we all just expect it once we hit late March/early April. But then something weird happened. While many thought having to deal with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant would mean more pain, the opposite happened. It brought nothing but joy. Rob magically came back and this team could not lose. The same team that couldn't beat dogshit teams in October was sweeping KD/Kyrie right out of the playoffs. The joy was at an all time high.

Enter the Bucks. This series has been the perfect description of what it feels like to be a fan of the Boston Celtics. Devastation followed by elation followed by more devastation followed by even more elation. The swings in emotions could not be more massive. From clinical depression to the best feeling you could possibly feel as a human. Every other night it's been this back and forth bullshit. 

And yet here we are. When many left them for dead, the Boston Celtics showed us YET AGAIN just who they are. We are now challenged with a Game 7 which will once again either give us the lowest of lows, or the highest of highs. That's the life of rooting for this team and frankly, I wouldn't want it any other way.

We have a lot to get to, so let's dive in.

The Good

- I think we all need to take a second, catch our breath, and realize that what we are watching right now with Jayson Tatum is bigger than his insane Game 6 performance. We are watching a generational talent. An All Time Celtic in the making, and that is no bullshit.

Tatum is already littered throughout the Celtics record books for a wide variety of reasons, and more often than not when he steps on the court once the game is over we learn that he just did something that's only been achieved by Larry fucking Bird. The fact that he is 24 years old and still a few years away from his prime is incredible. He's already battle tested, and he continues to show that he IS built for these moments. He CAN be the best player on a title team. When this team's season was on life support and they needed their franchise guy to not only show up, but to go nuclear, this is what he did

Jayson Tatum went nuclear. We all said he needed to dig deep and find his Game 6 LeBron, well that's exactly what happened. Again, no bullshit. 

LeBron's Game 6 in 2012: 45/15/5 on 19-26 (2-4) +22 

Jayson Tatum's Game 6: 46/9/4 on 17-32 (7-15) +21

We knew that if the Celtics were going to keep their season alive and get this back to Boston for a Game 7, that Tatum was going to have to go blow for blow with the best player in the world. Anything less than that would most likely end their season. It's not like they got 46 from Tatum and could coast. No no, they needed every single one of those points. With Giannis dropping 44/20/6 while making 14-15 from the line and 2-3 from deep, he had that 2021 NBA Finals Game 6 look. To beat an all time performance like that would require an even better all time performance, and Jayson Tatum rose to the occasion. His 46 points tie Pierce for the 2nd most in Celtics franchise history when facing elimination only trailing the 47 from Sam Jones. Had he gotten a proper whistle, Tatum probably ends this game in the mid 50s. When it came time to come through in the fourth quarter, Tatum was ready. So many huge shots to mention it's a little ridiculous. The baseline jumper with 2 seconds on the shot clock. The three over Connaughton late in the fourth, the soft fallaway on the block, it was a masterclass by every sense of the word.

I thought he played with great poise, was great at attacking his mismatches and had enough diversity in his shot selection that it did not feel like he was settling down the stretch, which was an issue in Game 5. When Tatum remains aggressive, nobody in the NBA can guard him. The only player that can really stop Jayson Tatum is Jayson Tatum. But when he's locked in like this? It's over.

As long as Jayson Tatum is alive and is on this team, the Celtics will always have a chance. They say to win an NBA title you need a Top 5 player. While Tatum may not be there just yet, he is certainly playing Top 5 level basketball at the moment. The performance we just witnessed is usually reserved for the true greats. The LeBron's or the Giannis' of the world do shit like this in that type of moment. Maybe it's time to start adding Jayson Tatum to that list as well.

- Loving and trusting is not easy. After how Marcus Smart choked away Game 5 and potentially the series, a lot of people bailed. Despite it being a collective collapse, of course 99% of the doomers who have been quiet for 5 months put everything on Smart. They had been waiting a long time for a moment like that. Smart talked about how he couldn't sleep for days after that game and never have I felt more seen. I know that life. I also know something else when it comes to Marcus Smart. I know why I love and trust. I know that when Smart fucks up, he immediately corrects it. Could be from one possession to the next or it could be one game to the next. As you are well aware, that is exactly what happened

Marcus Smart was the second best Celtic in this game. They don't win without him, plain and simple. It's not just the 21/7 and DPOY caliber defense, but it's the fact that he also shot 50% from the floor, went 5-7 from three and did not commit a single turnover. Like I said, when Smart fucks up, he fixes it. 

It was Smart who was basically carrying this team early while Giannis did nothing but throw haymakers. All the people who cry about Smart shooting too much or wanting to be the hero probably were pretty happy he decided to shoot. Had he not shown up to start this game, the Celts probably get down by double digits early with Giannis rolling and who knows what happens. Smat had 14 first quarter points on 5-7 (4-6) while playing all 12 minutes. You knew this man was not going to go out quietly or without a fight, and in my opinion he played a near flawless game. It's very hard for this Celtics team to lose if they are going to get that Jayson Tatum and this Marcus Smart. 

There are a lot of highlights in that video above that rule, but one sequence really stood out and was probably my favorite of the night. This one right here

You want to know why Marcus Smart is the Defensive Player Of The Year? This play right here.

What other point guard in the NBA is going to handle Giannis in the post not once, but TWICE while getting zero help from a big and not only stop him twice, but force him into a low percentage fadeaway? This is a point guard on Giannis I'll remind you. The same Giannis that makes 7fters/280lb defenders look like children. 

So before you go screaming how Marcus Smart should be traded or is a detriment to this team, remember he has the ability to put GIANNIS in jail with no help. That doesn't exactly grow on trees.

- I think we're starting to make the transition to where we no longer have to worry about how this team is going to respond to adversity. That question is answered, that box is checked. Not just because of the times they did it during the regular season, not just the perfect late game execution we saw against the Nets, but after 6 games of this series I think it's fair to say is all the Celts have done is respond to adversity. They suffer soul crushing losses and immediately stop the bleeding. It has now happened in Games 2, 4, and 6. In years past, I don't think they have this mentality, but the more I think about it I can't shake the thought that going through those early heartbreaks is what has them ready for this moment. Remember, they're all pretty young and in the NBA, you basically have to lose in gut wrenching fashion before you win big. That's been the case all throughout NBA history.

They could have felt sorry for themselves after choking away Game 5, gone into MIL, and been blown out by 20+. We've seen that version of the Celtics before. But that's not how this team operates. That's not the team Ime has molded. Giannis and the Bucks did nothing but punch back all game long, and each and every time the Celtics responded. When things got down to 4 with plenty of time left, they took a breath and immediately extended it. That's growth. I thought Smart said it best

In that building with Giannis throwing haymakers and Pat Connaughton coming out of fucking nowhere to continue to ruin our lives which got that crowd energized late, the Celtics never panicked. It was beautiful to watch and something we've always known they were capable of which is why it gets frustrating when they play like assholes in these big moments. This team did not have a single turnover in the 4th quarter, even when the pressure was at its highest. When they play with that type of poise, they almost never lose. They were selfless, they locked in defensively and most importantly they didn't just stand around and watch. They kept playing which is what we ALL wanted them to do at the end of Game 5. They don't avoid those same mistakes without being poised and trusting one another. It was beautiful basketball to watch.

- I don't know how many times I've said it, but it bears repeating. The coolest part about having Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown on your favorite basketball team is the fact that you have BOTH Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown on your favorite basketball team. This is example 3495873854763 of why that's the case

What, you thought Jaylen wasn't also going to show up in this Game 6? Have you ever watched Jaylen Brown play basketball before? Guy is an animal. For the second straight game I thought Jaylen put up a very solid all around performance. This time it was his 22/5/4 on 7-16 (4-7). He was relatively quiet in the first half, but in that ever important 3rd quarter Jaylen exploded and provided the perfect support to Tatum's breakout third as well. If Jayson was the constant force, Jaylen was the knockout punches. When this team needed dagger threes, Jaylen was ready. He's done a great job of not playing with tunnel vision, and I thought he really set the tone with how aggressive he was at attacking the rim. 

Defensively, there weren't too many mistakes, especially off ball, and when you are getting a solid two way performance from Jaylen in addition to everything else, you'll always have a chance. To beat this team on Sunday the Celts are going to need both Jaylen and Jayson to show up and carry this team offensively, and nothing we've seen this series suggest they aren't up for the challenge.

- If Coach Bud is going to continue to allow Grayson Allen to see the floor, I need the Celtics to do nothing but attack him on the defensive end. I'll be shocked if he sees more than 10 minutes on Sunday. There's no denying that having to replace Khris Middleton with Grayson Allen is a massive downgrade for the Bucks, but I also don't give a shit. Not my problem. The way the Celts attacked him was great, and it ended with him being a -29 on the night. Perfect approach, better execution.

- He had a brutal night shooting at 1-6 (0-4) but you know what? I loved what I saw from Al Horford. With no Rob, he had to control the boards and he did, finishing with 10. As a team, the Bucks only had 7 OREB and 11 2nd chance points. Al needed to protect the rim at an elite level, and he did, finishing with 4 blocks. He had to make Giannis' life as tough as possible and he did, holding Giannis to just 5-13 shooting and only 2 FTA. 

To be fair, Horford was probably due to a shooting regression game. You're not going to shoot 67% from three or whatever for the entire series. But the fact that Horford still found a way to make a giant impact is why he's the greatest. He didn't let his poor shooting impact everything else he could do on the floor to help the team win. That's exactly what you want to see from your vet. Al doesn't panic, he just keeps playing. 

- It cannot be understated how massive Derrick White has been in this series. I'll go so far to say is the Celtics season is over if Derrick White doesn't have the Game 6 he did. The numbers aren't overly sexy, he had 9/5/2/2 on 3-9 (1-5), but if you watched this game you know what I mean. A +9 in his 29 minutes, it was White's defense and rebounding to close this game that ultimately helped seal the deal. Two plays in particular stand out

So much of preventing collapses is making sure you do not give up offensive rebounds and easy putbacks. You need to finish off good defensive possessions cleanly, and that's what that rebound at 2:53 was. That's a shit ton of time for only an 11 point lead, and with Portis crashing and physical guys like Jrue Holiday right there, making sure to secure that ball was massive. Then a few moments later, coming up with that huge OREB/steal to get an extra possession and take more time off the clock/add to the lead is the exact type of shit that makes White so valuable. It's the small winning plays here and there that can make a massive difference in the outcome of a game.

The Celts are now 3-0 in this series when White is on the floor to close. The small ball lineup with Al at the 5 clearly works. It requires everyone to hit the glass sure, and Al is going to have to hold his own against Giannis, but this lineup has been by far the most successful. We're seeing why Brad Stevens traded for Derrick White and why the cost to do it is whatever. He's making huge plays in huge games and has been great this entire series, even when his shot hasn't been falling. As long as he continues to be a connector and ball mover while playing solid defense and touching the paint on offense, that lineup will always have success. We're seeing the value of having smart players who are built for these moments can do to a roster. Everyone say "thank you Brad".

- It's not complicated. Don't turn the ball over, and you win. The Celtics only had 8 TOs as a team in this game which led to just 10 Bucks points. A total of 4 of those TOs (8 points) came in the first quarter. It has been proven that this MIL team cannot score on the Celts in the half court. Their offense is too iso dependant because the Celts defense is forcing them to play that way since they are without an elite shot creator in Middleton. It's basically give it to Giannis and Jrue and hope they figure it out. More often than not, the Celts defense is going to win that battle.

It's when they turn it over and give away live ball transition points that the Bucks become overwhelming. As long as you rebound and take care of the basketball, that is your path to victory. They don't have the horses as long as you show up offensively. 

The Bad

- I know we're all feeling high right now, but things were not perfect. For example, once the Celts built that 18 point lead, they fell into their bad habits. Suddenly every possession was a 3PA, there wasn't that same level of ball or player movement, and it felt like they were more concerned with making that knock out punch three than just getting the best shot possible and hitting singles. As it so often does, the shooting variance showed up. The Celts couldn't make a shot and the Bucks took that shit and cut the lead in half. That was clearly the Basketball Gods telling the Celtics to cut the shit. 

Once they did, the lead extended again. This is my concern for tomorrow. If the Celts are fortunate enough to build any sort of double digit lead, they need to resist the urge to fall into that lazy bad habit. Just keep attacking. The second you set your foot off the gas the Bucks have life and Giannis is good enough to beat you by himself. A poor offensive approach even if it's only for a 2-3 minute stretch can be the difference of moving on or your season ending. They can't afford to have those 3-4 minute offensive lulls, and it happened twice in this game. The first came when they were up 40-30 and their offense stalled to the point where you looked down and it was 42-39 and the second was once they were up 18. You know the Bucks are going to keep coming at you, so you cannot get lazy once you build a lead. If anything, you need to lock in more.

- Part of me wants to give him a pass for whatever he's doing offensively because it has to be absolutely exhausting and physically demanding to guard Giannis so often, but man do I need Grant to snap out of his offensive funk. He's just giving them nothing on that end ever since Game 2. It's not Game 7. Last night was another 0-3 (0-1) performance and his three wasn't even close. 

If we're being honest, the Celts caught a bit of a prayer by winning a game in which their starting frontcourt had just 4 points and shot a collective 1-9 (0-5). I don't know if this is a mental thing or what, but I do think the best way for Grant to snap out of it is to continue attacking those closeouts. That drive is there for him whenever he wants it, and maybe getting to the line a little bit will help give him both some confidence and help him find his rhythm because right now that shit is ugly.

- Same with you Payton. Gonna need you to make some open threes tomorrow. Don't think, just shoot.

- Listen, beating Giannis is hard enough. It's even harder when he does not have to oblige by the rules of basketball. Earlier in the series we learned he was allowed to goaltend whenever he wanted. Last night, was this

Come on. What are we doing? Why is it so hard to just make Giannis follow the same rules as everyone else? I don't give a shit about the block/charge stuff really, that shit is hard as hell to consistently get right. But this? I'm sorry, this is just pathetic. You cannot have this in a massive playoff game. When people talk about how Giannis lives by different rules, THIS is what they mean. It's insane.

The Ugly

- I have one request for Jaylen this summer. Do nothing but work on your handle. This is also something that I feel is starting to get more mental than anything else. It just doesn't look like Jaylen has any confidence in his ability to dribble, which is a bit of an issue. Part of the issue is guys like Jrue Holiday and Giannis are coming up with great ball pressure, but the other part of it is the fact that more often than not Jaylen forgets how to dribble. He only had 2 TOs which was nice, but way too often were we all left holding our breath as we saw him dribble like it was the first time he ever picked up a basketball. 

- Is it me, or is it a little crazy that the Celts were willingly playing into a switch where they went away from attacking Allen into suddenly being matched up with Giannis/Holiday? Don't do that. I know we all hate isolation, but if literally anyone is matched up with Allen/Connaughton I want them attacking. Don't let the Bucks off the hook by switching their better defender onto the ball handler. Isolation in spots is OK, especially when you have an advantageous matchup.

- If the Celtics miss 8 FTA on Sunday I might just end my life. Tatum missing two, Grant missing 3, Jaylen missing 3. What the hell even is that? I can't think of too many times where you see a team shoot 65% from the line, leave that many points on the board and still win by double digits. What a prayer.

So here we go. Game 7. The best and most terrifying words in sports. It's going to be an all out war for 48 minutes but at least it's happening at the Garden. This is why you played for homecourt. Win at home and you're moving on, it's that simple. Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go puke my brains out.