With their season on the line, the Boston Celtics He avoided elimination on Friday night by defeating Milwaukee Bucks 108-95. The story of the game was Jayson Tatum’s electric 46-point performance. He hit the big shots when it mattered most. However, what flew under the radar were two top-notch performances from two of the team’s combo rangers, Marcus Smart and Derek White.
Boston’s starting point guard managed to do this on both ends of the floor in Game 6. Boston’s drive-and-kick offense found him a ton in the first quarter, and he didn’t hesitate to pay the Milwaukee defense. He lost 14 points in the first quarter en route to a 21-point performance of the night.
He was asked about his hot start after the match. Smart said he knows he has to “set the tone.” Just like “America is working on Dunkin’,” the Celtics are working on Smart. He and his colleagues know that:
We go as I go. I am the heart and soul of this team. My teammates tell me that all the time. And you know, I try to be that way for them. The energy I bring is contagious, I know that, and I try to bring it into every game.
For a guy not known for his three-point shooting, that’s exactly what he gave the Celtics in Game 6. He shot 5 of 9 from distance, and four of them are coming in the first quarter alone. But the effect of Smart was not only felt in the offensive end.
Defensive Player of the Year found himself guarding two-time World Player of the Year Giannis Antetokounmue more than usual. Despite the size difference, Smart held his own and faced more Antetokounmue than any Celtic team. Greek Freak still trailed by 44 points, but it wasn’t enough to earn the win.
When asked if the game plan required him to guard Antetokounmpo, Smart said he didn’t. He noted that the Celtics’ plan is simply to make Antetokounmpo’s life as difficult as possible whenever he gets the ball:
The match plan was fair, no matter who was standing on it, just make it as difficult as possible. It has been matched a few times and just tried to do my best. Monster dude. Seven plus feet, seven plus wings, and take those long strides. It’s hard or rough so, you know, we just want to make it as hard as possible no matter who it was.
Smart was battling Game 5 demons while entering the Fiserv Forum on Friday. Although he wasn’t the only reason for Boston’s late-game meltdown, his turnarounds in the final moments of the competition have been the talk of the town over the past two days. During his post-match interview, Smart revealed how worried he was about the end of Game Five. He admitted that this led to two nights of sleep:
I’ll just say tonight will be the first night since that game that I get some sleep. I did not sleep yet. Right after that match, I went straight back to the training center. Just got my mind right and just tried to do everything I could to get ready for tonight. Make sure we and myself bounce back.
With his performances in Game 6, it’s safe to say that Smart more than made up for his gaps in Game 5. He finished second on the team in scoring, led the Celtics on seven assists, and played an outstanding defense over one of the league’s suspension stars.
But while Smart was nailing the triples and putting out the dimes, White was getting in the paint and doing the dirty work. White’s shooting numbers (3 for 9 from the field, 1 for 5 from behind the arc) don’t tell the full story of how much he influenced Boston on both ends of the field.
After the match, Al Horford met NBC Sports Boston’s Abby Chin and praised White for his efforts, saying simply, ‘He’s a winner’:
winning plays. Derek, he’s a winner. He knows how to play. He’s trying to play the right way. I’m so happy for him, the way he played tonight. He hung there and made plays for us along the way.
White finished the night with five rebounds, two of them on the offensive side of the ball. It might not sound like five tons, but it was the timing of White’s paintings that mattered. Three of them came in the last three minutes of the match.
On the offensive end, White was able to do what a few Celtics could do – get into the paint. Milwaukee Defense is designed to prevent the easy appearance of paint. Although he wasn’t able to make his way toward the edge, White’s ability to make his way toward the defense teeth created an easy look for the others.
In this play, White manages to get George Hill, forcing the Milwaukee defense to collapse. As a result, Smart is wide open for three people.
White’s contributions to the defensive side were just as important. He was a threat to the ocean and even managed to draw a charge on Antetokounmpo in transition.
Lots of big plays from Derek White during the first half. This is perhaps the most influential, as he has charged Giannis’ third mistake. pic.twitter.com/nON2WWZ4kP
– Taylor Snow (@taylorcsnow) May 14, 2022
Smart and White both showed up in a big way when it really mattered to the Celtics. They played plays on attack, smashing boards, and even withstood a seven-foot bulldozer. Now, it’s all about the game 7.
Boston’s season will once again be on the line on Sunday, but this time, they’ll be at TD Garden. Game 7 is set to give a tip at 3:30 PM EST on ABC.