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 electric 46-point performance. He hit the big shots when he mattered most. What went unnoticed, though, were two top-tier performances from the team’s two combined shooting guards, Marcus Smart and Derrick White.
Boston’s starting point guard nailed it 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 make Milwaukee’s defense pay. He dropped 14 points in the first quarter en route to a 21-point performance on the night.
He was asked about his good start after the match. Smart said he knew he had to “set the tone.” Just as ‘America runs on Dunkin’, the Celtics run on Smart. Both he and his companions 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 to them. The energy that I bring is contagious, and I know it, and I just try to bring it every game.
For a guy not known for his 3-point shooting, that’s exactly what he gave the Celtics in Game 6. He shot 5-for-9 from distance, with four of them coming in the first quarter alone. But Smart’s influence wasn’t just felt on the offensive end.
The Defensive Player of the Year found himself guarding two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo more than usual. Despite the size difference, Smart stood his ground and took on Antetokounmpo more than any Celtic. The Greek monster still lost 44 points, but it was not enough for victory.
When asked if the game plan required him to protect Antetokounmpo, Smart said no. He noted that the Celtics’ plan is simply to make Antetokounmpo’s life as difficult as possible whenever he has the ball:
The game plan was, whoever’s on him, make it as hard as possible. I got paired up with him a couple of times and I just tried to do my best. The guy is a beast. He’s over seven feet and over seven in wingspan, and he takes those long strides. He is tough. So, you know, we just want to make it as difficult as possible, no matter who was behind it.
Smart was battling Game 5 demons when he walked into the Fiserv Forum on Friday. While it wasn’t the only reason for Boston’s late-game collapse, his two turnovers in the final moments of the contest were the talk of the town for the past two days. During his post-game interview, Smart revealed how much the ending of Game 5 haunted him. He admitted that it resulted in a couple of sleepless nights:
I’ll just say that tonight is the first night since that game that I’ve gotten any sleep. I haven’t gone to sleep yet. Immediately after that game, I went straight back to the practice facility. I just had a good think and tried to do my best to prepare for tonight. Make sure we and I recover.
With his performance in Game 6, it’s safe to say that Smart more than made up for his shortcomings in Game 5. He finished second on the team in scoring, led the Celtics in assists with seven and played great defense on one of the Celtics’ superstars. the league.
But while Smart was hitting 3s and dishing out pennies, 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 impactful he was for Boston on both ends of the floor.
After the game, Al Horford caught up with NBC Sports Boston’s Abby Chin and praised White for his efforts, saying simply, “he’s a winner”:
Winning plays. 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 hung on and made plays for us down the stretch.
White finished the night with five rebounds, two of them on the offensive end of the ball. Five might not seem like a ton, but what mattered was the timing of White’s boards. Three of them came in the last three minutes of the game.
On the offensive end, White was able to do what few other Celtics could do: get in the paint. Milwaukee’s defense is designed to avoid easy looks in the paint. While he couldn’t work his way to the rim, White’s ability to work his way through the teeth of the defense created easy looks for others.
On this play, White manages to get past George Hill, forcing the Milwaukee defense to collapse. As a result, Smart is wide open for an easy three.
White’s contributions on the defensive side were equally crucial. He was a threat on the perimeter and even managed to pull a charge on Antetokounmpo in transition.
Lots of big plays from Derrick White in the first half. This may have been the most shocking, as he gets the charge for Giannis’ third foul. pic.twitter.com/nON2WWZ4kP
— Taylor Snow (@taylorcsnow) May 14, 2022
Smart and White made it big when it mattered most to the Celtics. They made offensive plays, knocked backboards and even held their own against a seven-foot bulldozer. Now, it’s Game 7.
Boston’s season will be on the line again this Sunday, but this time, they’ll be at the TD Garden. Game 7 is scheduled to begin at 3:30 p.m. EST on ABC.