With their season on the line, the Boston Celtics avoided elimination on Friday night, defeating the Milwaukee Bucks 108-95. The story of the game was Jayson Tatum’s 46-point electric performance. He hit the big shots when it mattered the most. However, what flew under the radar were two top performances by the team’s two combined guards, Marcus Smart and Derrick White.
The Boston starter made it to both ends of the floor in Game 6. Boston’s drive-and-kick attack found him a ton in the first quarter and he didn’t hesitate to make Milwaukee’s defense pay. He dropped 14 points in the first quarter on his way to a 21-point performance overnight.
He was asked about his hot start after the match. Smart said he knew he had to “set the tone.” Just like “America is running on Dunkin ‘,” the Celtics are running on Smart. Both he and his colleagues know that:
We go the way I go. I am the heart and soul of this team. My teammates tell me that all the time. And you know, I’m trying to be that for them. The energy I bring is contagious and I know that and I just try to bring it into every game.
For a guy who is not known for his three-point shots, that’s exactly what he offered the Celtics in Game 6. He shot 5 of 9 from a distance, four of them coming alone in the first quarter. But Smart’s influence was not limited to the offensive.
Defensive player of the year found himself defending twice MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo more than usual. Despite the difference in size, Smart clung to him and faced Antetokounmpo more than any Celtic. Greek Freak dropped another 44 points, but it wasn’t enough to win.
When asked if the game plan called for him to guard Antetokounmpo, Smart said no. He mentioned that the Celtics’ plan is simply to make Antetokounmpo’s life as difficult as possible whenever he has the ball:
The plan was for everyone on it to be as tough as possible. I was right with him a few times and tried my best. The guy is a beast. More than seven feet and more than seven wingspan and takes those long steps. Is difficult. So, you know, we just want to make everything as tough as possible, no matter who was against it.
Smart was fighting the demons of Game 5 when he entered the Fiserv Forum on Friday. Although it was not the only reason for the collapse at the end of the game in Boston, its two remakes in the last moments of the competition were the discussions of the city in the last two days. During his post-game interview, Smart revealed how much he was haunted by the end of Game 5. He admitted that he spent several sleepless nights:
I’ll just say tonight that I’m the first night of that game where I get some sleep. I haven’t slept yet. Immediately after that match, I went straight back to the training center. I just got along and tried to do everything I could to prepare for tonight. Make sure you and I get back together.
With his performance in Game 6, it is safe to say that Smart made up for more than the losses in Game 5. He finished second in the team in scoring, led the Celtics to seven assists and played an excellent defense on one of the league’s superstars.
But while Smart nailed three and took out coins, White went into the paint and did the dirty work. White’s shooting numbers (3 for 9 from the field, 1 for 5 from behind the arc) do not tell the whole story of how impactful it was for Boston at both ends of the field.
After the game, Al Horford met Abby Chin of NBC Sports Boston and praised White for his efforts, saying simply, “He’s a winner.”
Winning pieces. Derrick, he’s a winner. He knows how to play. He is trying to play the right way. I’m so happy for him, the way he played tonight. He stayed there and did plays for us downstairs.
White ended the night with five rebounds, two of them coming on the offensive side of the ball. Five may not sound like a ton, but it mattered when White’s plates were made. Three of them came in the last three minutes of the game.
At the offensive end, White managed to do what few other Celtics could – get into the paint. Milwaukee’s defense is designed to prevent the appearance of light paint. Although he failed to make it to the sidelines, White’s ability to snag his way through the defense made it easy for others.
In this play, White manages to get past George Hill, forcing Milwaukee’s defense to collapse. As a result, the Smart is wide open for a simple three.
Equally crucial were white’s contributions on defense. It was a threat on the perimeter and even managed to attract an attack on Antetokounmpo in transition.
Lots of great games from Derrick White during the first half. This may have been the most impactful, as he withdraws the charge for Giannis’ 3rd foul. pic.twitter.com/nON2WWZ4kP
– Taylor Snow (@taylorcsnow) May 14, 2022
Smart and White came both big when it mattered most to the Celtics. They played attack, collapsed boards and even held their feet against a seven-foot bulldozer. Now it’s all about Game 7.
The Boston season will be in play again this Sunday, but this time they will be at TD Garden. Game 7 is scheduled to air at 3:30 pm EST on ABC.