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'That’s what he gets paid to do': Celtics' Jayson Tatum turns in career-defining performance to beat Bucks in Game 6 | Opinion

USA TODAY SPORTS logo USA TODAY SPORTS 5 days ago Jeff Zillgitt, USA TODAY
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That was special, Jayson Tatum. Now, can you do it again?

But before we get to what’s next, let’s revisit what happened.

In a career-defining performance with Boston on the edge of elimination on the road, Tatum scored 46 points with nine rebounds, four assists and a block in the Celtics' 108-95 victory against Milwaukee in Game 6 on Friday.

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"That’s what he gets paid to do," Celtics guard Marcus Smart. "That’s what we lean on him to do."

Without Tatum’s MVP-like effort, the Celtics’ season is over, and it required that kind of game to overshadow Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo’s 44 points and 20 rebounds, just the second 40-point, 20-rebound playoff performance in the past two decades.

Jayson Tatum notched his third career playoff 40-point game. © Stacy Revere, Getty Images Jayson Tatum notched his third career playoff 40-point game.

Tatum made 17 of his 32 shots, including 7-of-15 on 3-pointers. He scored 16 points in the paint, 21 on 3s, four from mid-range and five from the free throw line.

WHAT A SHOW: Tatum bests Giannis in all-time duel as Celtics force Game 7

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But it just wasn’t the how and where. It was the when — 18 points in the first half when the Celtics took a double-digit lead into the break and 16 in the fourth quarter when the Bucks rallied and made it a two-possession game.

"I knew that I had it going on on the offensive end," Tatum said. "It just boiled down to five, six minutes left, and you know this is our season on the line. Leave it all on the floor. That’s the mindset I have. That’s the mindset that we all have."

After Antetokounmpo cut Boston’s lead to 85-81, Tatum scored 15 of Boston’s next 20 points, including 10 consecutive, as the Celtics extended their lead to 105-92.

"He went into another mode right there," Smart said.

No matter what the Bucks did, they didn’t have an answer for Tatum.

"Definitely a signature game for the Celtics and Jayson," Celtics guard-forward Jaylen Brown said.

Tatum has been building to these moments for years, even at the young age of 24. He played in his first conference finals at 19 and his second at 21. Friday was his 60th playoff game, and in his first conference finals against LeBron James and Cleveland in 2018, Tatum was among the top players on the court.

It hasn’t been easy to get to this point, even though it’s just his fifth NBA season. The Celtics haven’t reached the Finals in Tatum’s era, and his growth, while steady, hasn’t been straight up. He sometimes forces shots, tries to do too much, gets caught up in one-on-one matchups and complains too much about no-calls.

In Boston’s Game 5 loss at home on Wednesday, Tatum was just 12-for-29 from the field and 2-for-11 on 3s.

Great players have games like that. It bothered him. But his talent is obvious, a gifted scorer who can also defend.

First-year Celtics coach Ime Udoka has helped Tatum improve. He noted that Tatum didn’t play in a crowd, passed the ball when he didn’t have a favorable matchup and made the right plays.

After last season’s play-in game victory against Washington, then-Wizards coach Scott Brooks said, "He’s a great player. He's not a great young player, he's a great player. He's going to be an MVP in this league soon."

How soon? He will make one of the league’s All-NBA teams this season, and he finished sixth in MVP voting.

This season, he averaged career-highs in points (26.9), rebounds (8.0) and assists (4.4), and in the playoffs, he is averaging 28.8 points, 5.9 assists and 5.6 rebounds.

It wasn’t easy going to Milwaukee and beating the defending champs who know what it takes to finish off a series.

"We showed a lot of toughness and growth coming out here and getting a win on the road and giving ourselves a chance," Tatum said.

This has been a fantastic back-and-forth series. The winner will probably be the favorite to win the East even though Miami is the top seed.

The Celtics need another great game from Tatum if they want to advance. It doesn’t have to be a 40-point performance. But the Celtics can’t afford a bad game from him.

Superstars are in born in moments like this. Some might argue Tatum is a superstar now.

He can ensure his status in Game 7.

"This is supposed to be, it’s basketball, the biggest moments, the biggest stages," Tatum said. "And when it boils down, it’s just go out there and have fun."

Follow Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter @JeffZillgitt.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'That’s what he gets paid to do': Celtics' Jayson Tatum turns in career-defining performance to beat Bucks in Game 6 | Opinion

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