MY COUCH — I don’t know why I loved Jayson Tatum calling TD Garden “the house” so much, but I did. “We got a great opportunity,” the rookie said after the Bucks forced a Game 7 in Boston with a discommoding 97-86 win in Milwaukee, “to go back home and close it out at the house.”
We’re not here to talk about Game 6. It was the kind of ugly you wake up to in Milwaukee after seven too many High Lifes. Fueled by the energy from their home crowd, the Bucks went on run after run — 7-0 to end the first quarter, 24-8 to end the second, 13-4 to end the third and 17-8 to end the fourth. Otherwise, the C’s outscored the Bucks 66-36 … is something your dad might say if he wasn’t still reeling from Marcus Morris running the offense for six minutes straight.
(Seriously, from the 2:06 mark of the third quarter to 8:28 left in the fourth, Mook attempted all seven Celtics field goals, missing five. And that might’ve been their best option, given how many open shots they either missed or passed up. But we’re not here to talk about Game 6, right?)
“Game 7 in TD Garden is what you play for,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said from the podium.
Baby, this is what you came for. This is it. This is what this weird Celtics season comes down to. The 16-game win streak after Gordon Hayward shattered his ankle gave rise to Kyrie Irving’s MVP candidacy, the emergence of Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, a mob of combat muscles and true grit, and the fever dream of Celtics contention. That gave way to growing pains and actual pain, the kind that sidelined Kyrie Irving, Daniel Theis and any hope of making the Finals.
The result was 55 wins and a Coach of the Year campaign by Brad Stevens. None of that means a whole hell of a lot now. Except home-court advantage. That’s what’s sustaining them.
“By any means necessary get the win,” Morris said Thursday. “We did lose, but it’s not all bad. We get to go home and play in front of our fans. Game 7 in Boston is really crazy. I’m excited.”
The Celtics were stripped to the studs, and then a wrecking ball by the name of Giannis Antetokounmpo came for them, too, with 31 points, 14 rebounds and four assists in Milwaukee’s Game 6 victory. So, here we are. Game 7. Boston. Saturday night. These are the moments that birthed Celtics greatness. Bill Russell famously finished his career 10-0 in such situations. Larry Bird once outdueled Magic Johnson in a Game 7. Paul Pierce did the same to LeBron James.
“Game 7s were dramatic,” Tommy Heinsohn said Thursday night, “let me tell you.”
Now it’s Tatum’s turn, playing a Game 7 in the first playoff series of his career. It’s Brown and Terry Rozier’s turn, starting for the Celtics in Game 7 a year after coming off the bench to beat the Wizards in Round 2. It’s Marcuses Morris and Smart’s turn, because crazy plays in Game 7.
“You’d have to cut my leg off for me not to play,” Morris added on Thursday, “so it is what it is.”
Now it’s Al Horford’s turn. He’s been here before — as a rookie visitor in 2008, when Kevin Garnett and company wiped the floor with his Hawks in the last championship Celtics team’s coming-of-age moment; and as a veteran host last year, when they walloped Washington.
Which is why a smile washed over Horford’s face. “As a basketball player, as a fan, one of the places you want to enjoy is the Garden. TD Garden for a Game 7. I’ve been on both sides. It’s tough about tonight,” he said, smile widening, “but I’m definitely looking forward to Saturday.”
He knows. He knows how this goes in the Garden. The building will rock well before tipoff, the crowd fueled by a mix of basketball nirvana and booze. This is Game 7 in Boston on a Saturday.
“Speaking about this crowd, it’s like plugging in,” Garnett once said of the Celtics crowd after a 2012 playoff game at the Garden. “Every minute I look up I see my family, I see people yelling, I see the drunk fat guy. I can’t decipher one from the other. This crowd is ridiculous. I love it.”
And of course I won’t be there, long committed to a prior engagement I wouldn’t miss for the world, scheduled well before I knew there would be a freaking Game 7 in Boston on a Saturday.
“Nuts,” Rozier said when asked what he expects from a Game 7 in Boston on a Saturday. “Fun.”
I’ll be following with you from home. I’d suggest a drinking game, but there are kids listening, so let’s call it a vice game. Scotch, soda, chocolate milk or martinis, whatever it is, every time Tatum puts his signature swoop on a layup, take a swig. Every time Brown flexes, swig. Every time Smart hits the floor, Horford lowers a shoulder, Aron Baynes whips his ponytail, Semi Ojeleye stands his ground, swig. Ever Rozier step-back. Every Morris iso. Swig. Every. Time.
As Stevens, so notorious for quoting rapper Fat Joe, said Thursday, “We gotta get it poppin’.”
Here’s to the C’s surviving Game 7 in Boston and hoping we do, too. Remember: Go back home and close it out at the house. If you need me, I’ll be the drunk fat guy. See you on the other side.