BOSTON — The Celtics needed more.
Boston needed First Team All-NBA selection Jayson Tatum and All-Star Jaylen Brown to come together and close it out in Game 6. The hosts needed their two best players to assert themselves in a contest where turnovers halted just about scoring stretch and role players — save for Derrick White — didn’t provide much.
Instead, the Celtics received seven shots over the final 24 minutes from the combination of Tatum and Brown and lost 111-103 in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals. Their two best players attempted an inexcusable one shot each in the fourth quarter.
All parties — Brown, Tatum and head coach Ime Udoka — had a similar explanation for the lack of assertiveness. But that doesn’t make it any less impactful.
“Got to keep making the right play,” Brown said during a postgame press conference. “They were doubling me on matchups that I had in the second half. … You don’t want to force it if you got two guys on you. So, I thought I made a lot of right plays tonight, but not enough for us to win.”
Brown scored two points in the second half after scoring 18 first-half points on an efficient 6-for-10 from the field. He finished 6-for-13 from the floor while missing a pair of crucial free throws with two minutes remaining.
Tatum, who was 6-for-8 from the field in the first half on an identical 18 points, finished with 30 points on 9-of-12 from the floor. Efficient, sure, but not assertive enough for a group that received just three points from Al Horford (1-for-8) and two points from Grant Williams (0-for-2, five fouls in 17 minutes). Those performances were not good enough either.
Tatum, who also had seven of Boston’s 17 turnovers, attributed his lack of shot-taking to the matchups he faced as well.
“I think it’s the flow of the game, how the game is going,” Tatum said after the game. “Obviously I got to watch the film, and things like that, but I think being out there, just the feel of the game, drawing a lot of attention, right?”
Udoka added: “So they’re gonna go after and load up on him like always, that’s nothing new. As far as that and just our execution, whether he was a handler or the screener, wasn’t as crisp as it needed to be. We didn’t get a chance to check the numbers behind it.”
What made the respective performances of Tatum and Brown a bit more difficult to grasp was the fact Heat star Jimmy Butler had no problem asserting himself. Butler finished with 47 points on 16-for-19 from the field while coming up just shy of a triple-double with nine rebounds and eight assists. It was the performance of a star in a game his team needed it.
If only Boston received the same it might not have to travel to Miami for a winner-take-all Game 7 on Sunday at FTX Arena.