Jayson Tatum is no longer 19 years old. He is 24, and he has already experienced a lifetime of NBA playoff games for the Boston Celtics, but none so legendary as Friday’s performance with his season on the line.
The Celtics suffered a devastating collapse in Game 5, blowing a 14-point lead with 10 minutes remaining to give the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks a 3-2 lead in the Eastern Conference semifinals. Not only did a stellar season flash before their eyes, but a legitimate chance to win the championship had flatlined. Boston faced the NBA’s nightmare — an elimination game against Giannis Antetokounmpo in Milwaukee.
TD Garden was silent. Celtics employees were somber. “We gave it away,” said Jaylen Brown, who exited an emptied arena alone on Wednesday. Added their coach, Ime Udoka: “We gave up a golden opportunity.”
Tatum took a different tact. He could sense the line of questioning in his postgame news conference was seeking some admission of defeat, even smiling at times, before reassuring Boston, “Series is not over.”
“I could come up here and pout, be sad, and I’m sure there would be a big story about how we’re defeated, and I don’t believe us,” he said. “You can’t change what happened. It stinks, for sure, but it’s 3-2, and it’s the first to four. There’s no sense in being sad … because that’s not going to do anything for the next game. Always be optimistic and believe in yourself, believe in the group, that we can win the game on Friday.”
So, he did, fully realizing his all-time great potential in a 108-95 win to force Game 7 in Boston on Sunday.
“This was our season on the line,” said Tatum. “Leave it all on the floor. That’s the mindset that I have — the mindset that we all have — so I wasn’t going to have any regrets. I was just trying to do what it took.”
Tatum’s first 3-pointer came less than three minutes into Game 6. His second gave the Celtics a 15-6 lead 66 seconds later. Boston led on Friday night for all but 3:42 of the first quarter, when Antetokounmpo made clear he would not make the Celtics’ task any easier than near-impossible. But Tatum answered every call.
“That’s why he gets paid the big bucks,” Celtics teammate Marcus Smart told reporters. “That’s it, right there, for moments like that. I was telling him the whole game, ‘Just be you, man,’ and he was.”
He started 4 for 4 from 3-point range. He drove for layups past Jrue Holiday, over Brook Lopez and through any other Bucks who dared defend him. He had 18 points at the half, matching Antetokounmpo bucket for bucket. Tatum added 12 more in the third quarter, the last two of which tickled the twine on a step-back 23-footer in Bobby Portis‘ wide eyes and gave Boston an 82-68 edge in the final seconds of the third quarter.
Tatum opened his bag, removed the contents and gave Milwaukee everything he had.
“I was excited to play today,” he said. “This is a big moment for all of us, for myself and the team, just how we would respond. Losing Game 5 was either going to make us or break us, and I think we showed a lot of toughness and growth, coming out here and getting the win on the road and giving ourselves a chance.”
But this was Antetokounmpo’s house, and he was trying to tell his visitors they were no longer welcome. The reigning Finals MVP had 32 points of his own through three quarters. He had his 40 early in the fourth, when his 3-pointer slashed Boston’s erstwhile 18-point lead to 85-81. It was all too reminiscent of his 3 that turned Milwaukee’s fourth-quarter comeback in Game 5 and downright mirrored his 50-point Game 6 that closed out the Phoenix Suns in the 2021 Finals, down to his near-perfect night from the free-throw line.
Only, Tatum withstood Antetokounmpo’s barrage and delivered the knockout. He scored Boston’s next 10 points, half of which he delivered with contested jumpers as the shot clock expired, to push the lead back to 95-87. Milwaukee could not get off the mat. Four straight Tatum free throws amped the lead to 13 inside of two minutes and gave him 46 points on the night. The Bucks threw in the towel and pulled their starters.
“You’ve got to give him credit,” said Antetokounmpo. “He played unbelievable. He led his team to a win. He made a lot of tough shots. As a team, we were doing a good job being in front of him, making him shoot contested 3s, contested 2s, but he made them, and you’ve got to respect that. He played unbelievable.”
Only Wilt Chamberlain has scored more points in victory when facing elimination after the first round before his 25th birthday. Chamberlain netted 50 points against Bill Russell’s Celtics in Game 5 of the 1960 Eastern Conference finals. He did not match the effort in a Game 6 loss two days later. That is Tatum’s assignment in Game 7 against Antetokounmpo’s Bucks on Sunday. A title shot and greatness awaits on the other side.
And Tatum is taking his same reassuring attitude home to Boston.
“I’m looking forward to it, truly,” he said some 36 hours before tipoff. “Just winning this game and giving ourselves a chance to go back, this is it. It’s do or die, and it’s going to be fun. This is supposed to be fun. It’s basketball. Biggest moments, biggest stage, and when it boils down, I just go out there and have fun.”
Tatum went toe to toe with LeBron James as a rookie in Game 7 of the 2018 Eastern Conference finals. He scored 50 points opposite Kevin Durant in last season’s playoffs and swept his Brooklyn Nets this year. And he just out-dueled Giannis Antetokounmpo in a road elimination game. He has given the three greatest players of their generation all they could handle. Jayson Tatum isn’t 19 anymore. He’s an NBA superstar.
WWE has announced additional matches for Friday Night SmackDown as two singles matches have been added to the card.
Xavier Woods vs. Butch and Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Sami Zayn were announced this afternoon on WWE’s website.
When Nakamura attempted to call out Roman Reigns for his attack several weeks ago, Zayn came out instead as he was out to prove he can be an asset to The Bloodline. Zayn recently beat Nakamura with a Helluva Kick to earn a count-out victory.
Last week on SmackDown, Butch earned a win over Kofi Kingston. Woods has two wins thus far over Butch.
While away from in-ring action, he has been working behind the scenes in AEW and is part of the development team for AEW’s upcoming video game. Despite rumblings that he could be close to making a return, that’s not the case.
The Young Bucks recently teased that when Omega is healthy he would return and face Vikingo. Dave Meltzer reported in the latest edition of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter that “there isn’t even close to a date set for Omega to return.” He added that the third AAA TripleMania event isn’t until October and if Omega is healthy then this was a match he personally asked for.
Vikingo won the vacant AAA Mega Championship after Omega vacated the title at the end of 2021.
Omega previously stated that he hoped to be back in action by February, but admitted at the time that he was a little too optimistic and that turned out to be the case.
This week on “The Extreme Life of Matt Hardy,” Hardy discussed the relationship between Bray Wyatt and Vince McMahon, as well as Bray’s overall creativity.
Matt Hardy explaining the relationship between Bray Wyatt and Vince McMahon:
“Windham (Bray Wyatt) has always had a very strange relationship with Vince, very strange, like, I almost felt like Vince looked at him like a son in some ways,” Hardy said.
“When he would do things that he liked, he would love him and he would really give him everything that he could possibly give him. He would bend over backwards to try and accommodate him. But then when he did something he didn’t like, he hated, like he was going to lock him away for good.”
“It was almost like a really weird, a really strange and different duality that Vince shared with Bray. When he liked him or loved him, he was all about him. But when he disliked him, oh my god, it was really bad and he would like punish him and insult him. To me, it was so strange. It was almost like a parent.”
Matt talking about the creativeness of Bray Wyatt:
“He’s just an out of the box thinker. He’s also a very interesting person. Some of the material that he reads and studies is stuff that is just really out of the blue, things that you wouldn’t expect.”
“He’s a very well versed and educated person and he has a lot of interests. I feel like that makes him overly creative in many ways. His thought process of trying to do things new and differently is very unique and very special just to himself. Not a lot of people think like he does. He’s very unique and it really is a very special talent and gift that he has when it comes to being creative.”