MILWAUKEE — The Boston Celtics had waited for weeks to get Marcus Smart back on the floor after missing the last six weeks with a thumb injury.

Smart finally returned Tuesday night and it’s not a coincidence that the Celtics are now just one victory away from the second round and can lock it up Thursday night when they visit the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 6 of their first-round Eastern Conference playoff series at the Bradley Center

Smart only scored nine points in 25 minutes of work but was a force on the defensive end http://www.giantsauthorizedshops.com...-martin-jersey , helping hold the Bucks to a series-low 36 percent shooting percentage.

“It means a lot for our team,” Celtics forward Al Horford said of Smart’s return. “I think I said it earlier in the year that he was kind of like the soul of our team. Just everything that he brings — his toughness, unselfishness, just a hard-nosed player, and we fed off his energy (in Game 5).”

To punch their ticket to the next round, the Celtics will need more of the same defensive effort — especially against all-star Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Antetokounmpo finished an assist short of a triple-double but scored a series-low 16 points while attempting just 10 shots in the Bucks’ 92-87 loss after averaging 27.8 points on 17.8 shot attempts through the first four games of the series.

Antetokounmpo acknowledged the additional pressure provided by Smart and rookie Semi Ojeleye, who Boston coach Brad Stevens moved into the starting lineup to help contain Antetokounmpo, but he put the blame on himself for the lack of production.

“I feel like the shots I had, the moments in the game that they were quality shots http://www.eaglesauthorizedshops.com...-maddox-jersey , so I took them,” Antetokounmpo said. “Of course, in Game 6 I got to come out being more aggressive.

Interim Bucks coach Joe Prunty said his team needs a better all-around effort if it wants to keep its season alive for another day.

“It’s not just one guy, it’s everyone we call on,” Prunty said. “We need them to come in and play solid defense, we need guys to come in and knock down shots.”

Smart’s presence alone will make that difficult and it also adds another layer to what has already been a physical series.

Bucks point guard Matthew Dellavedova expects more of the same when the teams meet again Thursday night.

“The sixth time playing the same team … it’s going to get physical and a little bit chippy,” he said. “That’s the same case whether you’re playing board games with your family. You keep playing with the same people over and over it’s going to get chippy.”

A loss Thursday night would not only end the Bucks’ season, but also mark the final game played at the Bradley Center, their home since 1988. The team is moving into a new facility located right next door next season.

Milwaukee M.J. Stewart Color Rush Jersey , though, is hoping to ride the same home-court advantage it enjoyed while winning Games 3 and 4 and force a Game 7 for the first time since 2010.

“We’ve been here before,” Antetokounmpo said. “We’ve just got to play hard, be disciplined, move the ball, rebound the ball and we’re playing at home. We’ve got to feed off the energy, make shots and hopefully we can get a win.”

LeBron James has rescued the Cavaliers from a 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals and just pulled them out of a 2-0 hole against Boston.

Neither such comeback had ever been accomplished, so James has stared down tough situations before.

Winning another championship now, leading this group of Cavaliers past a much mightier Golden State team http://www.seahawksauthorizedshops.c...dickson-jersey , might even be a bigger challenge. Perhaps it’s simply too much to ask.

Except for the guy being asked.

James is playing at such an extraordinary level that anything is possible, including what would go down as one of the biggest upsets in NBA history.

”No matter what the story line is going to be, no matter if we’re picked to win or not, let’s just go out and play ball,” James said. ”We’re going to have a great gameplan. We’re going to try to get better throughout the series, and we’ll see what happens.”

The Warriors are better, and few outside James’ native Ohio would bother to argue. Golden State is deeper, quicker, more potent offensively and much more reliable defensively. The Cavaliers only got one game off them in last year’s finals Thomas Rawls Color Rush Jersey , and that Cleveland team, with Kyrie Irving, was better than this year’s version.

But none of their weaknesses have stopped the Cavaliers from pulling out two Game 7s in this postseason, or from stomping on a 59-win Toronto team in four straight games. They find a way to play well enough to keep the games in striking distance so James can will the Cavs across the finish line, and that will be the strategy again starting Thursday at Oracle Arena.

As Stephen Curry noted, the Cavaliers are more than just James. Tristan Thompson rarely showed up anywhere but the gossip pages for much of the season, but has regained his role as a rugged rebounder and defender in the postseason. If All-Star Kevin Love is cleared from his concussion in time to play, Cleveland can surround James with dangerous perimeter shooters such as himself, Kyle Korver Derwin James Color Rush Jersey , George Hill and JR Smith, forcing the Warriors to play James 1-on-1 – and possibly without one of their top defenders in Andre Iguodala if he can’t return from his leg injury.

Golden State won two of the three finals meetings and is heavily favored to take this one. But the one Cleveland got is perhaps King James’ crowning achievement, when the Cavaliers overcame that 3-1 deficit to beat the 73-win Warriors in Oakland in Game 7.

Another title now wouldn’t be far behind. It might require four games of around 34 points, nine rebounds and nine assists – about what James is averaging in 18 games this postseason. It’s hard to expect that level of anyone, but that’s what’s demanded of No. 23 in Cleveland.

James can do it.

Believe it or not, so can the Cavaliers.

The pick: Cavaliers in seven.



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