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NBA playoffs results: Warriors earn Western Conference finals berth; Celtics force Game 7 vs. Bucks

Game 6: Celtics 108, Bucks 95 | Series tied 3-3

Who was the guy? Jayson Tatum. This was a backpack game for Tatum, as he carried his team to a critical win on the road while facing elimination by outdueling reigning NBA Finals MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo. Tatum took twice as many shots as any of his teammates, and he delivered with a game-high 46 points on a night Antetokounmpo had 44 points and 20 rebounds. For Antetokounmpo, it was the first time a player had at least 40 points and 20 rebounds in a postseason game since Shaquille O’Neal did it in the 2001 Finals. Tatum upstaged all of that, and he got better as the game went on. In the first quarter, Tatum hit three 3s but missed all of his shots inside the arc. Tatum scored nine more points in the second quarter as he began to hit the paint. In the third quarter, Tatum scored 12 points, including a couple of second-chance scoring opportunities as Boston built its largest lead. And Tatum finished it off with 16 fourth-quarter points, scoring at all three levels and the free-throw line to hold off Milwaukee’s comeback attempt.

What was the key here? Boston melted down at home to end Game 5, so the Celtics started Game 6 even better and built an even bigger lead. There were no lead changes after the first quarter in Game 6, and the Celtics led 53-43 at halftime. Tatum’s main sidekick early was Marcus Smart, who had a regrettable final minute of Game 5 at the hands of Milwaukee point guard Jrue Holiday. Smart responded by scoring 16 of his postseason-high 21 points in the first half, making four of his postseason-high five 3s. The early advantage allowed the Celtics to absorb multiple runs by the Bucks in the second half that cut 10 points off leads, then respond by boosting the lead back up each time when the Bucks ran out of juice.

Key stat: 17-7. That’s the 3-pointers both teams made in Game 6, and it’s the second time this series the Celtics made at least 10 more 3s than the Bucks. Tatum made as many 3s by himself on 15 attempts as the Bucks made as a team on 29. This followed a statistically bizarre fourth quarter of Game 5 that saw the Bucks make all six of their 3s as part of a comeback from down 14 in the final period. That same fourth quarter saw the Celtics attempt zero 3s, which was the only fourth quarter by any team all year (regular or postseason) where a team attempted zero 3s. The Celtics amended that shortcoming right away, as the first eight shot attempts of Game 6 were 3s, five of which were made.

The moment it was over: Pat Connaughton made a reverse layup with six minutes left in the fourth to cut what was an 18-point Celtics lead in the second half to 92-87. But the Bucks did not make another field goal for three and a half minutes, and the Celtics went on an 11-2 run capped by a Tatum and-1 through Connaughton. Four possessions later, the benches were empty and Game 7 became a reality.

The moment of the game: Prior to Tatum’s and-1, Antetokounmpo rebounded a Smart miss and appeared to be off and running. But Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer called timeout with 3:02 left just as Antetokounmpo appeared to be attacking into the frontcourt; teams automatically go down to two timeouts remaining after the 3:00 mark of the fourth quarter. Budenholzer’s ATO led to Antetokounmpo’s final shot of the game, a missed 3 that was rebounded by Derrick White. Tatum scored through Connaughton, and that was it.

What can the Celtics do to win Game 7? The Celtics have lost home-court advantage twice in this series, losing Game 1 because they helped off Antetokounmpo’s shooters too freely while losing Game 5 because they didn’t rebound well as part of Antetokounmpo’s onslaught. The Celtics have been the better team in this series, and while both teams have to deal with a relatively short turnaround for a Sunday afternoon Game 7, Boston will be in front of its crowd. Smart will be the player to watch. The mark of a champion is consistency, and Boston will be trying to end the season of the defending champion, something it did two years ago in the Orlando bubble against the Toronto Raptors in a Game 7. Smart and Jaylen Brown combined for seven steals in that game. With how much Game 7s tend to be defensive exhibitions, this should be a spot in which Smart shines. He bounced back in Game 6 on the road, but now he has to go back home and lead by the example that his Defensive Player of the Year award suggests he should.

What can the Bucks do to win Game 7? The Bucks have been here before: On the road for a Game 7 in the semifinals. But unlike last year, the Bucks had momentum from a Game 6 win as well as a healthy Khris Middleton to join Antetokounmpo for an overtime win in Brooklyn to mark the midpoint of Milwaukee’s championship run. Now, Antetokounmpo will likely be without Middleton, and Budenholzer has some lineup questions to consider. Top of the list is what to do with shooting guard Grayson Allen, who has been utterly ineffective as a starter. Since Game 3, the Bucks have been outscored by 42 points in Allen’s minutes, the worst on the team. Allen is supposed to help most as a shooter, but he has missed 11 of his last 13 3s. I’d suggest Milwaukee start Connaughton, and if Allen doesn’t have it for what will be his first career Game 7, then re-insert Jevon Carter into the rotation.

Celtics Worry Meter: ☘️☘️☘️

Bucks Worry Meter: 🦌🦌🦌🦌


Game 6: Warriors 110, Grizzlies 96 | Warriors win series 4-2

Who was the guy? Klay Thompson. Or, as he re-established, Game Six Klay. Before he tore his left ACL, Thompson had a game-high 30 points in Game 6 of the 2019 NBA Finals, his last playoff game before missing two-plus seasons due to injury. In the 2018 Western Conference finals, Thompson had a game-high 35 points and nine 3s to help the Warriors force a Game 7 against the Houston Rockets. In the 2016 Western Conference finals, Thompson had postseason career highs of 41 points and 11 3s as the Warriors set up a 3-1 comeback against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Thompson’s Game 6 efforts against the Grizzlies in 2022 quieted any talk of the Warriors blowing another 3-1 lead. For the first time all series, Golden State had a lead at the end of the first quarter, and Thompson played a major role in that by scoring 11 points and making his first three 3s. Neither team led by double digits in the first three quarters of Game 6, yet Thompson’s 27 points entering the fourth allowed the Warriors to maintain control. By the time Thompson hit his eighth and final 3 to cap a 30-point performance, both teams knew Golden State was back in the conference finals.

What was the key here? Starting Kevon Looney at center. Golden State spent the entire series with Draymond Green as the starting center, which worked fine until the Grizzlies reintroduced center Steven Adams back into the lineup for Game 4. The Warriors escaped with a late comeback in Game 4 but were whooped in Memphis for Game 5. Green told acting head coach Mike Brown that a change was needed.

Looney came through with his best rebounding game since at least high school. Never before with the Warriors or at UCLA did Looney have 20 rebounds in a game, but in Game 6, Looney grabbed 22 of Golden State’s NBA season-high 70 rebounds. Of those 22, 11 came in the first quarter, which is as many as the Grizzlies had as a team. And Looney outrebounded the Grizzlies 8-7 in the fourth. Golden State threw the ball all over the gym for 19 turnovers, because that’s what the Warriors do. But they more than made up for having a dozen more giveaways than the Grizzlies by outrebounding them 25-10 on the offensive glass, and Looney accounted for 11 of those offensive rebounds.

Key stat: 190-150. That’s what the Warriors outscored the Grizzlies by in the fourth quarters for this series. The Grizzlies outscored the Warriors by 28 points in the first quarters, by four points in the second quarters and by four points in the third quarters. Golden State ended this series by outscoring the Grizzlies 32-19 in the final period of play, turning a close game into a blowout. Game 6 wound up being the only game of the series in which the Grizzlies never held a double-digit lead at some point.

The moment it was over: Thompson’s 3, which appropriately came after Looney rebounded missed 3s from Stephen Curry twice. Looney dished to Thompson for the third-chance scoring opportunity, and it gave Golden State a 105-92 lead with 2:58 left. That’s when the final timeout of the series was called.

The moment of the game: Coming out of the first timeout of the fourth quarter, Desmond Bane nailed a 3 that gave the Grizzlies their largest lead of the second half at 89-87. It would be their final lead of the season. Andrew Wiggins would answer with a go-ahead 3 from Looney on Golden State’s ATO. Then Wiggins stripped Dillon Brooks for a breakaway dunk. Brooks tried to answer with a drive, but Green rebounded the miss and pushed the pace to unlock a Curry 3. That 8-0 run took about a minute, and it was the latest exhibition of how fast a team can lose control of a game against Golden State.

What’s next for the Grizzlies in the offseason? It’s Ja Morant extension summer, and next season is when Jaren Jackson Jr.’s extension kicks in. What Memphis needs to determine is if it feels like it can take a big swing at a possible upgrade on the wing on Brooks for the short term; last summer already saw the Grizzlies trade up to take small forward Ziaire Williams 10th overall in the 2021 NBA Draft. He is a long-term solution. Can the Grizzlies find a short-term option before their cap accounts for Jackson’s and likely Morant’s max extensions? This is already an ascending team, one that had an All-Star and Most Improved Player in Morant while winning 21 of the 28 games they played without Morant, including the postseason.

What are the Warriors looking at in the Western Conference finals? The Warriors are in the conference finals for the sixth time in eight seasons. The last time they were there in 2019, the Phoenix Suns and Dallas Mavericks were at the very bottom of the West standings. Now, the Suns and Mavericks are meeting in Phoenix for a Game 7, with the winner trying to become the first Western Conference team to beat the Warriors in a seven-game series in the Steve Kerr era. The Suns would arguably be the more favorable matchup for the Warriors from a logistic standpoint. Golden State isn’t worried about not having home-court advantage after taking care of business in Memphis to begin the semifinals, and meeting the Suns means not leaving the time zone. The Warriors would have home-court advantage against the Mavericks, but Golden State has not fared well against the Luka Dončić era Mavericks. Since Dončić joined the Mavericks in 2018, the Warriors have lost to Dallas 10 times. No other team has beaten the Warriors more often in the last four years, including the postseason.

(Photo: Cary Edmondson / USA Today)

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