As Celtics must overcome 3-2 deficit to Bucks, Boston’s blueprint to a comeback begins with Milwaukee

MILWAUKEE — The Celtics can say all the right things after they collapsed in Game 5 against the Bucks. They can say they blew a “golden opportunity,” that they have no one but themselves to blame and that they’re not going to panic despite heading into an elimination game.

All the pressure is on the Celtics as they travel back to Milwaukee for Game 6 at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Fiserv Forum. Ironically enough, their opponent knows exactly what type of adversity the C’s are going through.

Long before the Bucks were reigning champions, they were the perennial playoff chokers. They lost to the Heat in five games in the bubble; they blew a 2-0 lead to the Raptors in the 2019 NBA playoffs.

So when the Bucks squandered a 17-point second-half lead to the Nets in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals last season — similar to the Celtics — the detractors and critics were at their loudest. Giannis Antetokounmpo wasn’t considered a winner and there was real speculation Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer would be fired.

Of course, winners get to write their own narratives. The Bucks put together an improbable comeback from down 3-2 to overcome the Nets, including winning Game 7 in overtime (with an assist to Kevin Durant’s toe at the end of regulation). That’s the exact blueprint the Celtics will look to piece together down 3-2 to the Bucks.

“We’re going to be down,” C’s coach Ime Udoka said after the loss. “Guys are going to be pissed about the outcome, knowing we outplayed them for 3-and-a-half quarters. And so we talked about showing our resolve and we made it tougher on ourselves now. It’ll make it sweeter when we bounce back.”

The Celtics get to write their own script starting Friday, but they’re trying to get to where the Bucks are. Milwaukee has shown its championship mettle throughout the series, and that was on full display when it came back from a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit in Game 5.

The Bucks were a recent poster child of postseason failure despite great regular season success. They earned their championship aura because they captured the elusive title last postseason. And every deep playoff run needs some sprinkles of luck. The Bucks were fortunate when Durant’s toe was on the 3-point line in what would’ve been a go-ahead bucket. They also got some injury luck along the way.

But when Milwaukee reflects back on its rings, all the Bucks will remember is the thrill of the victory. That’s where the Celtics are trying to get as they can only focus on Game 6 and nothing else beyond that.

“I just think we didn’t do what we were supposed to do,” Marcus Smart said of Game 5. “The mentality was there to go win the game, and just fell a little short. Didn’t execute, like I said, when we were supposed to. When it mattered the most. They did.”

Comparing the Bucks’ situation last season and the Celtics of present isn’t quite the same scenario. Milwaukee had Game 6 at home, then needed to beat the Nets at Barclays Center in Game 7. The venues are flipped as the C’s need to win on the road first before they can force a winner-take-all Game 7 back at TD Garden on Sunday.

But if there’s one thing the Celtics have showcased this season, it’s their persistent resilience. They bounced back from an 18-21 start to the season and have shown some mental toughness in their wins in Games 2 and 4 — both crucial contests where the Bucks had won the game before.

There’s a blueprint to success and coming back from a 3-2 deficit, and the Bucks cracked it last season. The Celtics are now in the same unenviable spot going up against one of the best players in the world. But nothing comes easy in the postseason as the Celtics have a chance to extend their season Friday.

“Just move on,” Smart said. “They did to us what we did to them (in Game 4). You just have to come back and keep swinging. We don’t have time to worry about how we lost. We don’t have time to say we lost and it hurt. No time for that.”

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