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Jayson Tatum Saves the Boston Celtics’ Season With 46 Points


There was a time when the Boston Celtics’ season seemed in danger of crumbling into a pile of fine dust. They had a losing record in late January. They were scuffling through a series of injuries. There were questions about whether Jayson Tatum could coexist with Jaylen Brown — was it time for the team to consider trading Brown? — along with inevitable critiques of Ime Udoka in his first season as coach.

It is familiar history at this late stage of the season, but worth reiterating, especially now. Why? Because on Friday night, in the wake of a late-game meltdown earlier in the week, the Celtics were facing elimination in Milwaukee. Outside of their cocoon, as they braced themselves for Game 6, the questions swirled: Had they blown their chance? Could they somehow find the resolve to extend their Eastern Conference semifinal series with the Bucks?

The Celtics, though, seem to embrace adversity. Perhaps they are conditioned to play at their best when everyone else thinks they are finished, a sandcastle about to be swept to sea. Down? Out? Their sandcastle is apparently reinforced with steel beams, and they proved as much with their 108-95 win.

“This was a big moment for all of us,” Tatum said just minutes after assembling one of the finer individual performances of the N.B.A. postseason. “I think we showed a lot of toughness and growth.”

There was no doubt about that after Tatum finished with 46 points and 9 rebounds to help even the series at three games apiece. In the process, he somehow overshadowed Giannis Antetokounmpo, who tried to drag the Bucks across the finish line with 44 points, 20 rebounds and 6 assists. It was a series that deserved a seventh game, and the Celtics delivered. Game 7 is on Sunday afternoon in Boston.

“I believe in everyone in that locker room,” Tatum said. “We have what it takes.”

No, he has not been immune from the occasional clunker. In a narrow loss to Milwaukee in Game 3, he shot 4 of 19 from the field and missed all six of his 3-point attempts. But in the three games since, he has averaged 36.7 points, 9.3 rebounds and 4.3 assists while shooting 47 percent from the field.

On Friday, Tatum played a brilliant all-around game. He did more than score. Coming out of a timeout in the third quarter, he stripped the Bucks’ Bobby Portis in the post, leading to a layup for Brown and a 17-point lead.

Tatum also was able to counter everything that Antetokounmpo could throw at the Celtics, which was a lot. The Bucks were threatening in the fourth quarter when Antetokounmpo sank a 3-pointer. Tatum proceeded to score the Celtics’ next 10 points, a flurry capped by a deep 3-pointer over the top of the Bucks’ Pat Connaughton.

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