Jayson Tatum’s game-winning 3-pointer over Giannis Antetokounmpo at the end of Boston Celtics’ season-opening win over the Milwaukee Bucks Wednesday night at TD Garden is a highlight NBA fans will be re-watching for years.
The Celtics’ 2021 season – the newest chapter of one of the league’s most storied franchises is prefaced by that image and its significance. How could it not be?
If Tatum and Brown are going to ultimately guide the Celtics to Brad Stevens’ first NBA Finals appearance, they’re most likely, going to have to do it through Giannis.
Boston Celtics Top Milwaukee Bucks, 122-121
In back-to-back seasons, Antetokounmpo and the Bucks topped the Eastern Conference at the end of the regular season but never reached the NBA Finals. So, when Milwaukee reloaded its roster during the offseason by signing standout guard Jrue Holiday (25 points) and backup center Bobby Portis, it was enough for Giannis to sign a contract extension to keep him in town.
Meanwhile, while Kemba Walker is nursing his left knee injury, Brad Stevens is leaning on his dynamic Tatum & Brown tandem. The narrative – it’s time for Tatum and Jaylen Brown to take the mantle – was set in stone months before Boston’s emphatic 122-121 win Wednesday over Milwaukee.
Giannis, the East’s most-dominating superstar, Defensive Player of the Year representing the back-to-back Conference-winning Bucks, smelled blood when he and Milwaukee wiped out a 17-point deficit to regain a fourth-quarter lead. And it didn’t take very long to do so.
Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown Combined For 63 Points In Win Over The Milwaukee Bucks
For a moment, it sunk in – the feeling that Tatum, Brown, and the Celtics are going to need more time. They’re not ready to take on such a tall task at the start of a brand new season against the best player in the East after the shortest offseason of all time, but the Celtics kept their poise.
Brown, who finished with a team-high 33 points on 13-of-24 from the floor, drove to the hoop for a layup to tie the game at 117 with only 1:52 left to play. He and Tatum supplied the final 14 of 21 Celtics fourth-quarter points but Jayson owned the shot of the night.
With 8.9 left on the game clock, Tatum took his time in working to get to his spot. He dribbled right, took the league’s Defensive Player of the Year to his left for a step-back 3-pointer that banged off the backboard, and found the bottom of the net with only 0.4 left to play.
After the game, Tatum was asked the rhetorical question that was on everyone’s mind:
Did you mean to bank it off the glass?
“Nah, I ain’t try to (bank it in),” Tatum said. “The angle that I had and knowing how tall he is, once I let it go I knew it was going to hit the backboard but I didn’t necessarily try.”
Tatum finished with 30 points on 12-of-28 attempts, including 6-of-13 from deep to go with his 7 rebounds, a pair of steals, and one block.
“He did his usual move; the step-back,” Antetokounmpo said after the game. “I was right there to contest.”
Jaylen Brown On The 2021 Boston Celtics: ‘New Year, New Season, New Responsibilities, So I’m Just Trying To Accept The Challenge’
While Tatum’s buzzer-beater headlined the matchup, Brown’s offensive performance was the byline that made it all possible. He was magnificent.
At times, Brown took on the facilitator role and blew past defenders in transition and via pick-and-roll sets. His shooting efficiency (54.1%) was the result of clean looks and hard drives to the rim; his determination is driven by the gradual improvements Jaylen’s made to his game year-after-year in Boston.
Now, Brown is ascending to new heights this season, he’s taking Tatum and the Celtics with him and is already off to an impressive start as he put the Bucks on notice on Opening Night.
“(I’m) comfortable,” Brown said after Wednesday’s win. “Just fine, it’s a new year, new season, new responsibilities, so I’m just trying to accept that challenge. And I’m looking forward to this year.”