BOSTON (CBS) — With the Celtics facing elimination on Friday night, they needed a superstar performance out of Jayson Tatum. That is exactly what they got from the 24-year-old, who painted an absolute masterpiece in Boston’s 108-95 victory in Milwaukee, forcing a deciding Game 7 against the Bucks in Boston on Sunday.
Tatum was electric throughout the win, scoring a game-high 46 points to outduel Giannis Antetokounmpo (44 points) on his home floor. Tatum scored 15 of those points in the fourth quarter, including 10 straight after the Bucks had cut the Boston lead to just four points.
He shot 53 percent (17-for-32) overall and hit five of his seven shots in the fourth. Tatum had his full bag of tricks working for him, whether it was from downtown or around the rim. He made seven of his 15 attempts from three-point range, and his fadeaway was as smooth as silk. He was also more than willing to drive to the hoop and take contact, punishing the Bucks at the rim with seven makes around the basket.
“It was a bigtime performance. Backs against the wall, you love 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 gets paid the big bucks,” said Marcus Smart.
Tatum had 18 points at halftime, scoring nine points in both the first and second quarter. He hit all three of his deep shots in the opening quarter, and then started to go to work inside in the second. He started the frame with a beautiful spinning layup, and added another a few minutes later to push Boston’s lead to seven. At that point, it was clear that Tatum was locked in.
He was up to 31 points at the end of the third quarter when he finished the frame with a driving and-1 and a filthy step back two (originally ruled a three but later changed during the break) that had the Celtics up by 14 points.
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 got a rest on the bench to start the fourth, the Bucks chipped away at Boston’s advantage. The lead was down to six when Tatum checked back in, and down to four after Giannis hit a three.
With the game — and Boston’s season — was on the line, Tatum took things to a new level.
“I knew that I had it going on the offensive end. It just boils down to with 5-6 minutes left, this was our season on the line,” he said at the podium. “Leave it all on the floor. That was the mindset I had, the mindset we all had. I wasn’t going to leave anything out there and have any regrets.”
With the sting of Wednesday night on his mind, Tatum put on a clinic. He started his majestic run with a filthy fadeaway off an inbound pass as the shot clock went off. After Pat Connaughton cut Boston’s lead back to four with a layup, Tatum splashed in a three with the shot clock winding down to push Boston’s lead to seven. His effortless fallaway on Boston’s next possession had the lead up to nine.
Tatum missed a layup after a Giannis dunk, and another Connaughton hoop in the paint made things uneasy with the Boston’s lead down to 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 left.
His shot was his paintbrush during that stretch, as none of his makes hit any iron.
This 4th quarter takeover from Jayson Tatum was INSANE
Didn’t touch rim once, all net pic.twitter.com/E7W9RNDxu7
— Celtics Junkies (@Celtics_Junkies) May 14, 2022
A driving and-1 with 2:38 left sealed the win for the Celtics, and he scored his final points of the night at the free throw line with under two minutes to go. It capped off an incredible 43 minutes for the face of the franchise.
Tatum’s 46 points are the second-most by a Celtic in an elimination game, behind only Sam Jones’ 47 points in a Game 7 win over Cincinnati in 1963. It tied Paul Pierce’s 46 points in Boston’s series-clinching win over the 76ers in the first round of the 2002 playoffs.
This was the game that his critics said Tatum wasn’t capable of having. He made the big leap that some questioned whether or not he could make. Tatum took over in one of the biggest pressure situations in sports, with Boston facing elimination on the road, and had his finest 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 lean on him to do,” said Smart. “He came in and did what he did, took the game over in the fourth and brought 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 in awe of Tatum’s performance on Friday night.
“He was unbelievable. Knocking down tough shots, getting his spots. He led his team to a win,” said Giannis. “As a team I thought we did a good job getting in front of him and contesting shots but he made them, and you have to respect that.”
Tatum said that he wasn’t trying to match Antetokounmpo, who also had it going with an epic 44-point, 20-rebound performance. Tatum’s only goal Friday was to get the win so the Celtics could see another day.
“I know when I had it going. You feel that rhythm. But it’s not matching what someone else is doing,” he said. “It’s finding you spots, knowing the time and score, the situation of the game, and being aggressive and making the right play.”
Tatum did that over, and over, and over, and over again on Friday night. Now the world waits to see what he’ll do for an encore in Sunday’s Game 7 at TD Garden.
“Game 7s are the biggest and best games. I’m looking forward to it,” said Tatum. “Winning this game and giving ourselves a chance, this is it. It’s do or die. It’s going to be fun. It’s basketball on the biggest moments on the biggest stage.”