Win or go home. In what potentially loomed as the last ever game at Milwaukee's Bradley Center, Matthew Dellavedova and Thon Maker were poised to play key roles in the Bucks' post-season fate.
For Boston, Aron Baynes came off the bench as he did in Game 5, while Celtics coach Brad Stevens tasked Semi Ojeleye with the sizeable job of defending Giannis Antetokounmpo once more. Milwaukee made a lineup change of their own, inserting live wire Maker into the starting five after three impressive performances from the second year Aussie big man. The usual starting center for Milwaukee, John Henson, missed his third straight game with back soreness, which ironically has proven to be a series altering injury, with Maker's presence in the paint becoming a legitimate game changer.
First quarters have proven to be crucial to deciding the outcome of each game in the series so far. Boston holding a +31 differential in their three victories, whilst the Bucks held a +24 advantage in their two wins.
The quick start the Bucks were desperately chasing came to fruition as Maker got out and ran the floor to receive a pretty Malcolm Brogdon pass for an open dunk, forcing Stevens to call an exceptionally early timeout.
The Celtics were able to respond quickly, and the Bucks' offense ground to a halt. When Aron Baynes dropped a mid-range jumper with 2:06 remaining in the period, the Celtics had climbed out to a 24-15 lead. Remembering the first quarter numbers on the series, it's fair to say that the alarm bells were ringing for Milwaukee head coach Joe Prunty.
A furious rally from Milwaukee, a 33-15 run to be exact, saw them head into the half incredibly up by nine points. Thon Maker contributed four points and three rebounds, whilst Dellavedova hit a crucial triple and dished out three assists. With the Bucks holding court at the half way mark, you felt the series remained destined for that fairytale Game 7 situation.
With the importance of a quick start to the third at the forefront. It was Maker who provided arguably the highlight of the night.
When Jaylen Brown found a clear path to the rim, it seemed certain he had an easy two points on hand. Instead, Maker took two quick steps and use his length to produce a highlight block on Brown. Brogdon retrieved the ball and found Khris Middleton in transition, who swished a three to give the Bucks their biggest lead of the night at 14. It was only fitting Maker asserted himself protecting the rim, providing yet another moment in the growing playoff highlight reel for Thon.
As the third period went on, Maker began to feel the effects of foul trouble, his eagerness on defense bringing his downfall. With 7:47 remaining, he picked up his third while attempting to block Jaylen Brown again, forcing Prunty to take him out of the game. In the 3:26 that followed after Maker's exit, the Celtics were able to tie the game at 61.
Milwaukee steadied to close out the third with a nine point edge, but as the series had endlessly proven, there was still a story to be told. As it turned out, Baynes was a key component of the final quarter drama, securing a vital offensive rebound to get Marcus Morris a three-point shot, which closed the gap to two with 7:13 remaining.
Milwaukee responded on the back of Antetokounmpo and Brogdon, who scored 16 of the Bucks' last 17 points to secure a memorable win and extend the series to the pinnacle of NBA playoff basketball. Game 7.
For the Bucks, Maker finished with four points, seven rebounds and an iconic block, whilst Delly had three points and six vital assists. Baynes once again was given a reduced role, in which he contributed two points and four rebounds in just nine minutes.
Saturday evening in Boston is the stage. It is no longer only win or go home for Milwaukee, as Boston now face the same perilous proposition. Ben Simmons and the Philadelphia 76ers await the winner of this sure to be thrilling decider in what has already been a series with all the twists and turns of a post-season epic.
Game 7 between Milwaukee and Boston is slated for 1000hrs AEST Sunday, 29 April 2018.