After a must win in Milwaukee, the Celtics head home to cap off an amazing second round.
“The best two words in basketball are ‘Game 7,’” Jaylen Brown said after the Celtics beat the Bucks 108-95 in Milwaukee in a must-win Game 6.
After squandering homecourt advantage two nights prior back in Boston, they’ll now head back to TD Garden for a Sunday afternoon series-ending showdown with the defending champs.
Recall a month ago when the Celtics, Bucks, and 76ers all had the opportunity to secure the second seed in the Eastern Conference on the final day of the regular season. Milwaukee and Philadelphia would sit their starters in order to avoid a potential first round date with the looming Brooklyn Nets. Boston, on the other hand, took advantage of the opportunity.
Admittedly, HCA has meant very little so far. Through six games, the home team is just 1-2 on their home floor, a fact not lost on head coach Ime Udoka.
“I don’t know how much of an advantage homecourt is. We’re two very evenly balanced teams record-wise. We’re different personnel-wise, but we play each other tough,” Udoka said after Boston weathered another 4th quarter Bucks comeback. “We’re not relying on homecourt advantage being that they already beat us there twice.”
The series has mirrored what many predicted to be a heavyweight slugfest with neither team being able to win two games in a row. Every time Milwaukee has taken a series advantage, Boston has answered, particularly after heartbreaking losses in Games 3 and 5. For every gut punch, the Celtics have fought back.
“You got two juggernauts going at it. It’s tough. You got two defensive-minded teams that are physical. We’re beating each other up,” Marcus Smart said after putting together arguably his best game of the playoffs with 21 points (5-for-9 from behind the arc), seven assists, and zero turnovers. “They got three seven footers over there. We got a couple seven footers, we got a couple 6’9” guys, so it’s hard. Especially being in the playoffs, this is what it’s about. But we got homecourt and we’re bringing it back to Boston and we’re going to need to take care of business.”
Udoka may not appreciate the roar of the crowd, but the players do. Boston is hosting its first Game 7 in four years. The Celtics faced the Raptors two postseasons ago, but that was on the neutral floor of the Orlando bubble. In 2018 with a trip to The NBA Finals on the line, the Celtics lost to LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers on the parquet, an experience that Boston’s core players, Smart, Jaylen Brown, and Jayson Tatum will never forget.
“Experience is the best teacher. Being in certain situations, being able to learn from them has been great early in all of our careers. Being in big time playoff games, being in Game 7’s, being in the Eastern Conference Finals, you learn a lot,” Brown said. “We got to show what we learned in this next game. Survive and advance.”
The Celtics did survive on Friday night and lived to play another day. Sunday’s Game 7 is in effect their second Game 7 of the weekend and if Jayson Tatum’s performance on Friday is any indication, he’s ready for what could be a special day at TD Garden.
“It means everything. It’s the best atmosphere in the NBA. Game 7’s are the biggest and best games,” Tatum said. His 46 points in Game 6 guaranteed a final game back in Boston.
“Looking forward to it truly. Winning this game, giving ourselves a chance to go back, and this is it. Do or die. It’s going to be fun. It’s supposed to be fun. It’s basketball. Biggest moment. Biggest stage. And what it boils down to is just going out there and just have fun.”