By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
Jayson Tatum and the Boston Celtics brought a little drama to the table in their first game of the 2020-21 season.
I mean, this one had everything. A 17-point collapse, 16 lead changes, and Semi Ojeleye dropping pretty buckets. But it was nothin’ a little Tatum bank-shot — and a would-be game-tying free throw miss from reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo with 0.4 seconds left in the game — couldn’t fix to put the Celtics in the win column off the bat with a 122-121 win over the Milwaukee Bucks.
Jayson. Tatum. pic.twitter.com/MNFBKLJQwu— Celtics on NBC Sports Boston (@NBCSCeltics) December 24, 2020
And while each team made their offseason changes — the Bucks traded for Jrue Holiday while the Celtics swapped out an opted-out Gordon Hayward for veteran free agents Jeff Teague and Tristan Thompson — the story of this rivalry remained the same as the sides traded first-quarter body punches.
The Celtics were able to convert at a higher clip than they did throughout their 96-minute preseason sample (though it was going to be hard to shoot worse), but it was their transition defense that left them shaking their heads, and with a three-point deficit through the first 12 minutes of the new season.
The second quarter provided a much different feeling for the Celtics, however, as the team defense upped its tenacity while the offense surged to a 25-11 run to close out the first half, giving Boston a once-improbable five-point edge at the half.
???? Celtics run alert ???? pic.twitter.com/YFPRNn2yTD— Celtics on NBC Sports Boston (@NBCSCeltics) December 24, 2020
It was a push led by their backcourt, as starting shooting guard Jaylen Brown began with a half-high 15 points on 6-for-13 shooting, while Teague added 13 points off the bench behind a 5-for-10 start.
The third quarter brought about more of the same, as the Celtics outscored the Bucks 37-25 in the third, and with Brown and Tatum accounting for 22 of Boston’s 37 third-quarter points. Tatum made the final possession of the frame count, too, with a massive three-point dropped to extend the Celtics’ edge to a game-high 17 through 36 minutes of action.
But the Bucks made things interesting in the fourth quarter by way of a 16-4 run in the opening three and a half minutes, and made it a single-possession contest with 6:28 remaining in the fourth behind a Giannis three for his 30th point of the night. That was enough for Brad Stevens to call a timeout. But it didn’t stop Milwaukee’s push, as the Bucks fought to a tied contest with 4:21 remaining in the fourth quarter, and the photo finish was on.
A big Tatum make was upped by a Holiday three, and after a Tatum lay-up failed to drop, Teague’s hustle-and-block on the Bucks’ Donte DiVincenzo put the ball back in the C’s hands with 52.7 remaining on the clock.
And then came the aforementioned Tatum bank-in followed by Giannis’ misses on an iffy-at-best Tristan Thompson foul.
Tatum’s game-winner will steal the headlines in this game, but the Celtics’ drink was undoubtedly stirred by Brown throughout the night, as No. 7 finished with a team-leading 33 points on 13-for-24 shooting. Tatum was right behind him, of course, with 30 points, 21 of which came in the second half of action thanks to a 9-for-18 finish after starting just 3-for-10.
Considered a game-time decision entering Wednesday, Celtics center Tristan Thompson made his Celtic debut and got the start at the five, and finished with 12 points and eight rebounds in 22:24 of play.
The Celtics will welcome Kyrie Irving and the Brooklyn Nets to Boston on Christmas Day.