Milwaukee vs. Boston deserves a Game 7.
And that’s what their Eastern Conference semifinal series gets.
The Celtics defeated the Bucks 108-95 in Game 6 on Friday, forcing a series-deciding seventh game.
Game 7 is Sunday in Boston (3:30 p.m. ET), and the winner will play the Miami Heat in the conference finals. Both teams have won on the road, but no team has won consecutive games in this series. Boston will have to do just that to get back to the conference finals for the second time in three seasons.
Putting away the defending champs won’t be easy either. But they have held more than their own so far, winning an elimination game on the road in Game 6.
Jayson Tatum led the Celtics with a game-high 46 points. Marcus Smart added 21 points, and Jaylen Brown had 22 points. They had 89 of Boston’s 107 points.
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Here are five key takeaways from Game 6:
Tatum brings his A game
With the Celtics’ season on the line, their best player had a great game, the kind a blossoming superstar should have in that circumstance.
Tatum scored nine points in the first quarter and nine in the second quarter and finished with 18 points, five rebounds and three assists in the first half.
In the second half, he had 28 points giving him an MVP-caliber stat line: 46 points (17-for-32 shooting), nine rebounds, four assists and a block.
In the fourth quarter, he made two big shots as the shot clock was about to expire — a baseline jumper giving Boston an 87-81 lead and a 3-pointer putting the Celtics up 90-83. It was part of 11 consecutive Celtics points that were necessary as Milwaukee had cut a double-digit deficit to two possessions in the fourth quarter.
3-ball makes a difference
The Celtics had a 10-point halftime lead, and the 3-pointer was the main reason. Boston shot 11-for-25 on 3s, and the Bucks were just 3-for-18 — a 24-point difference over 24 minutes.
Tatum made seven 3s, Smart five and Brown four. The Celtics’ hot 3-point shooting cooled off a bit in the second half, but they still made 17 and shot 39.5% for the game. The Bucks made just seven 3s at a 24.1% rate. That’s not going to win many playoff games.
Antetokounmpo outstanding start to finish
Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 15 points in the first seven minutes. Milwaukee missed its first five shots, but Antetokounmpo scored the first six points, going 6-for-6 on free throws. He was aggressive driving to the basket, drawing contact and getting the whistle.
Then, he started hitting shots — four in a row.
He finished with 44 points, 20 rebounds, six assists, two blocks and a steal. He shot 14-for-30 from the field, 2-for-3 on 3-point attempts and connected on 14-for-15 from the free-throw line.
It was his third 40-point game of the series and the first 40-point, 20-rebound playoff game since Shaquille O’Neal did it in 2001. That’s what MVPs do. But …
Not enough help for Antetokounmpo
Midway through the third quarter, Antetokounmpo had 23 points and Jrue Holiday 14, and not one other Buck had more than six points.
Obviously, the Bucks are missing Khris Middleton (sprained left knee) and his absence hurts offensively and defensively.
Pat Connaughton ended up with 14 points, the only other Bucks player with more than six points.
Grayson Allen misfired on six of his seven shots, including four missed 3s, and the Bucks were outscored by 29 points in his 22 minutes on the court. The Celtics also outscored the Bucks by 22 points with Brook Lopez on the floor.
Change in officials
Veteran and respected NBA official Scott Foster was scheduled to call Game 6 but was not available due to a non-COVID related illness, according to the league.
Eric Lewis moved into the crew chief role, Ben Taylor into the referee role and Tre Maddox into the umpire role.
Follow Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter @JeffZillgitt.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Jayson Tatum, Celtics top Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks to force Game 7