The Boston Celtics got 33 points from Jaylen Brown and 30 from Jayson Tatum to escape with a one-point opening night victory on Wednesday over the Milwaukee Bucks, 122-121. Giannis Antetokounmpo countered with 35 points and 13 rebounds, while Khris Middleton lived up to his reputation as a Celtics killer with 27 points and 14 rebounds.
Entering the fourth quarter with a 17-point lead, this game looked like the Celtics were going to cruise to victory. Giannis had other plans, however. He completely took over in the fourth quarter, scoring 18 points to help the Bucks fight all the way back and take the lead into the final minute. From that point on, it was time for Jayson Tatum to shine.
With the game clock winding down, his patented side-step, fadeaway three-pointer flew just over the fingertips of reigning Defensive Player of the Year Antetokounmpo before banking off the backboard and through the net. With just 0.4 second left on the clock, the Celtics had a 122-120 lead and looked to have the game in hand.
However, after a Bucks timeout, Tristan Thompson fouled Giannis to put him at the free throw line for two shots with a chance to send the game to overtime.
After making the first to cut the deficit to one point, his poor free-throw shooting caught up with him, and he missed the second shot short. As the ball bounced harmlessly away, the Celtics were finally victorious in a game that never should have come down to the final seconds like it did.
While Tatum made the decisive shot, it was his teammates that got the team into that position in the first place, as he struggled with his shot for much of the night. Jaylen Brown led the team in scoring with 33 points, chipping in 7 rebounds and playing his usual stout defense. His midrange game was on fire all night long, as he continually punished the Bucks defense and picked on smaller defenders. Jeff Teague, another free agent signing, provided a huge spark off the bench. He had 19 points in only 25 minutes and made all four of his three-pointers. For stretches in the first half, Teague was the C’s best source of offense. If he can continue to be the 2015 All-Star version of himself that we have seen so far, his signing could end up as one of the best deals of the offseason.
Facing one of the best teams in the league on opening night provided an instant test for this revamped roster, and they certainly answered the bell. Tatum and Brown proved once again that they are more than capable of being the top scoring options on the team, something they will have to do most nights until Kemba Walker returns from his knee troubles. The Bucks gave their best punch, and the Celtics took it and fought back. That’s the sign of a good team, and to fight the way they did after their uninspiring (at best) preseason showings was a great first step this season.
Next up, the C’s will have another chance to take down one of the top teams in the East in the Brooklyn Nets. The star duo of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving have finally made their debut after losing last season to injury, and so far both have looked tremendous. They beat up the Warriors in their first game on Tuesday and blew out the Celtics in the preseason last week. Starting the season with two matchups like this is difficult, but it gives an opportunity to prove that the Celtics belong in the discussion true title contenders in the league. The C’s and Nets will face off at 5 p.m. on Christmas Day.
All in all, even though the Celtics made this game closer than it had to be in the fourth quarter, this win shows that they are one of the top teams in the East. Even more importantly, it confirms that the superstar versions of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown that we last saw in Orlando are here to stay. If that is the case, there’s no telling how far this team can go.