Celtics take opener over Bucks on last-second Jayson Tatum banker, 122-121

Famous last words, these.
“Aside from the ball going in the basket, I’m not sure we could have defended Tatum much better than we did,” said Milwaukee coach Mike Budenholzer, whose opening night vibe was popped by Jayson Tatum last night.
The Celtics forward, taken by the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year on a switch at the top of the 3-point arc, simply leaned back a little further than usual, lofted the ball over the fingertips of Giannis Antetokounmpo, and watched it back through with four-tenths of a second left.
For a Celtics team that had looked so – let’s face it – inept over the course of two preseason games, Tatum’s shot affirmed that a team can indeed get its act together on time for the season opener against the best regular season team in the Eastern Conference over the last two years.
Their 122-121 win was  sparked by exactly what they hadn’t been a week earlier – a poised, efficient team that came out firing and executing on all of its young cylinders.
“Hell of a shot. Big time shot,” said Jaylen Brown. “Those are the type of shots that we trust JT with, that he looks forward to. I don’t know if he called glass, but I’ll take it.”
The only strange part was that, beyond the sounds of jubilation coming from the Celtics bench, there was that fake, piped in crowd noise.
“It’s a little bit more weird just because it’s the Garden,” said Brown. “And the Garden is one of the loudest places to play in in the NBA. So it definitely is an adjustment that we’ve gotta get used to. But hell of a shot from JT. And I know all the Celtics fans were going crazy. So we appreciate you guys. Keep sending your energy. Even though you’re not in the building, we still might feel it.”
Tatum shrugged.
“I mean, I feel like every shot I shoot should go in,” he said. “Giannis is extremely tall so I tried to get some separation and put some arc on it and follow through. … 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. I didn’t try to do that.”
And, in a crushing way for Antetokounmpo, it was made possible by a rare misstep by the Bucks star. He was fouled at the rim by Tristan Thompson during the subsequent inbounds play – no time had gone off the clock – and after draining his first free throw, Antetokounmpo lined his second off the front of the rim.
He collapsed on the floor as the Celtics exulted like a college team.
But considering that the Celtics, thanks to the game-long steadiness of Jaylen Brown and his 33 points, had a 17-point lead at the start of the fourth, there is also a lesson in there about never feeling too good about yourself.
“You’re going to be in those situations. That was not a trend for us the first couple of weeks in the bubble,” Brad Stevens said of his team’s down-the-stretch trouble in the Orlando bubble.
“That was something we were usually pretty good in fourth quarters, at least at the start of last year we had our moments,” he said. “You’re going to be in games like that, and when Giannis hits those threes – those pull-up threes and those catch-and-shoot threes – they’re going to make a comeback. We’re certainly going to out-run him on those, so credit him for that, credit them for that, and we hung in there, took a good hit and kept ticking. It was good.”
Indeed, Antetokounmpo’s 18-point, 7-for-10 fourth quarter would usually be a knockout punch on your average night in the life of the richest man in Milwaukee.
But Tatum did his best work in the second half and finished with 30 points on 12-for-28 shooting, to go along with Brown’s steady 33.
But the new guys made their signings look good as well, as evidenced by Jeff Teague’s 19-point first night as a Celtic, including a 4-for-4 3-point performance.
Thompson started last night, blew through whatever his minutes restriction was with a 12-point, eight-rebound, 22-minute performance, and had a clear effect on his new team’s energy. The Celtics burrowed their way to 40 points in the paint against one of the stingiest paint defensive units in the league.
And the young star the Celtics are banking on to take them to the Finals this season added a huge shot to his resume.
“He’s a good offensive player, got his shot up, it was a well-challenged shot, well-defended shot, I guess we’re lucky it went in,” said Stevens. “But it was a great game and presented a lot of situations that NBA basketball and playing against a good opponent provides.”
It also provided the efficiency his team didn’t have a week ago.
“Just knowing that, all right, it’s time now,” said Tatum. “Obviously you want to translate what you’re doing in practice to preseason, but I’ve been in the league a little while now to understand it doesn’t always happen that way.
“But knowing that we’ve got a job to do and we know what we need to look like when the games count. We’re not always going to be perfect, but to come out and compete like we did tonight, if we control what we can control and play as hard as we can, if we win, we win, if we lose, we lose. You can live with that as a team just knowing that you compete night in and night out.”

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