The Boston Celtics produced several outstanding team performances throughout the 2021-22 season, giving us plenty of options to choose from for our Game of the Year.
There was their New Year’s Eve blowout win over the West-leading Phoenix Suns highlighted by Rob Williams’ first career triple-double. There was their 116-111 overtime win on Jan. 2 in Orlando, which featured Jaylen Brown’s first career 50-point game. There was their thrilling back-and-forth Game 1 win over the Brooklyn Nets in the first round of the playoffs, which was capped off by Jayson Tatum delivering Boston’s first postseason game-winning buzzer-beater at home in franchise history. And there was their double-digit fourth-quarter comeback win against in Game 1 of the NBA Finals.
However, the game that we felt stood out above all others was the 109-81 Game 7 win over the Milwaukee Bucks that pushed the Celtics into the Eastern Conference Finals.
After trading punches through the first six games, the C’s and Bucks met in Boston for what was expected to be a thrilling series finale. But no one could have anticipated what unfolded on the afternoon of May 15.
Giannis Antetokounmpo’s 10-point first quarter got Milwaukee off to an early double-digit lead. Then, Boston’s league-leading defense took control, while Grant Williams – yes, Grant Williams – took over on the offensive end.
Boston outscored the Bucks 89-55 during the final three quarters, led by a game- and career-high 27-point effort from Williams, who tied Steph Curry’s Game 7 3-point record with seven makes from long distance. He alone nearly doubled Milwaukee’s 3-point effort, as the Bucks made just 4-of-33 from deep as a team.
Not only did Williams produce a historic performance, but he also did so while outdueling a two-time league MVP, as Antetokounmpo was held to 25 points on 26 field-goal attempts despite his hot start. His performance was reminiscent of Kelly Olynyk’s unexpected Round 2, Game 7 heroics against the Washington Wizards, which happened to have taken place exactly five years prior.
Williams helped to take some of the offensive burden off Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, who combined for 42 points on 30 field-goal attempts. Marcus Smart flirted with a triple-double, finishing with 11 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds. And Payton Pritchard chipped in with 14 points on 4-of-6 shooting from long range off the bench.
The game itself was a microcosm of Boston’s season; it started off slow before the defense found its rhythm and dominated the rest of the way through.
What made the defensive performance even more impressive was that it came against the highest-scoring team in the Eastern Conference. Milwaukee’s 36.7 percent shooting clip from the field was its second worst of the entire season. And its 12.1 percent clip from 3-point range was its worst in franchise history – regular season or playoffs – when attempting at least 25 such shots.
Considering what was at stake with their season on the line in a Game 7 matchup against the defending NBA champions, the Celtics couldn’t have dreamed of a better outcome. From the early comeback to the defensive dominance to the unexpected heroics of Williams, it contained all parts necessary to make it worthy of our Game of the Year.