Giannis Antetokounmpo asserted himself in the biggest game of his budding career with his team on the brink of playoff elimination.
Now it’s on to Game 7 for the Milwaukee Bucks.
Antetokounmpo had 31 points and 14 rebounds and the Bucks pulled away late to beat the Boston Celtics 97-86 on Thursday night to force a winner-take-all game Saturday night in Boston.
Boston had to settle for perimeter looks down the stretch. They couldn’t hit enough 3s, finishing 10 of 36 (28 percent) on the night, and the Bucks limited Boston on the glass.
“We got stagnant and we weren’t very good,” coach Brad Stevens said
At the other end, Antetokounmpo led the Bucks’ charge right at the heart of the Celtics’ defense.
After Eric Bledsoe picked off Jayson Tatum’s inbounds pass, Antetokounmpo converted an offensive rebound with a putback off the glass for an 89-81 lead with 3:08 left. It was part of an 11-3 run late to help the Bucks pull away for 10-point advantage.
“He scored going to the net, dirty areas,” said Cassidy, whose team opens the second round against the Lightning in Tampa Bay on Saturday. “That’s always the first thing: play inside, be willing to get hit, fight for your space. That’s playoff hockey. They weren’t freebies. They’ve been real greasy, as advertised.”
Five years after rallying from a three-goal, third-period deficit and beating Toronto in Game 7 of their first-round series, the Bruins again scored four straight goals to eliminate the Maple Leafs. After Kasperi Kapanen put Toronto ahead 4-3 with a short-handed goal in the second, Torey Krug tied it, DeBrusk gave Boston the lead with 14:35 to play.
Despite the final score, the teams were tied or separated by one goal for the first 2 1/2 periods, until David Pastrnak made it 6-4 with 8:21 to play. Brad Marchand flipped one into the empty net with 51 seconds left to set off a celebration in the stands.
“For entertainment value, that was probably one of the better Game 7s you’ll see,” said Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask, who stopped just 20 of 24 shots. “It was only a one-goal game going into the third and we shut it down and scored some good goals.”
Danton Heinen scored his first NHL postseason goal, Patrice Bergeron had a goal and two assists, and David Krejci had three assists for the Bruins. In his first NHL postseason action, DeBrusk had seven points in seven games.