With time running out and a chance to win the game for the Boston Celtics, Jayson Tatum’s challenge increased significantly when the reigning Defensive Player of the Year switched over to guard him.
Tatum couldn’t shake free of Giannis Antetokounmpo with a variety of dribbles and instead Tatum went with what he is most comfortable with in his wide-array of offensive moves: a step-back and slightly to the side 3-point attempt.
It ended up being the right call, albeit with some help from the backboard, even though Antetokounmpo couldn’t have played the possession any better, contesting the shot with his otherworldly length.
Tatum’s 3-pointer ended up ricocheting off the glass and through the net with 0.4 seconds remaining in regulation, lifting the Celtics to a thrilling 122-121 season-opening victory over the Milwaukee Bucks at a fan-less TD Garden Wednesday night.
“They switched and at the time, just try to make the right play,” said Tatum, who finished with 30 points on 12-of-28 shooting, including knocking down six 3-pointers. “It was five-out, clock was ticking down, and trying to get the best option.”
When Tatum let go of his game-winning shot, the likelihood that he would sink it seemed minimal at best. To just get his shot over Antetokounmpo, Tatum had to release his attempt with so much arc that it felt like the ball would have scraped the banners in the rafters had the Celtics not lowered many of them in tribute to the late Tommy Heinsohn.
And while Tatum had plans on coming through for his team in that situation, he hadn’t planned on making a late deposit to the bank to ensure the win.
“I ain’t try to,” said Tatum on his final shot going off glass. “Once I let it go, I knew it was going to hit the glass. But I didn’t try to.”
Jayson Tatum's game winning shot was the latest go-ahead 3-pointer in a season opener over the last 25 seasons.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) December 24, 2020
It's just the fourth go-ahead FG (two or three) to happen in the last second of a season-opening game over that same span. pic.twitter.com/WXqDKcS4ik
Jaylen Brown, who starred alongside Tatum in the win by netting a team-high 33 points, didn’t mind deferring to Tatum with the game on the line, having full confidence that his running mate would come through even if Tatum didn’t stick to the playground rules of labeling his shot as going off glass upon the release.
“Helluva shot. Big-time shot,” Brown said. “Them 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.”
Despite Tatum weathering some early struggles before getting into his All-Star form in the second half, he rose to the occasion when it called for him to do so. Another positive sign that the 22-year-old is willing to take on the responsibilities that come with stardom in the NBA.
“I’m glad we got the win. JT made a big-time shot,” said Tristan Thompson. “Like I’ve always said, big-time players make big-time plays when it’s needed.”
Brad Stevens, as always, was more even-keeled when it came to Tatum’s heroics as Antetokounmpo’s ridiculous reach forced Tatum into what amounted as a very low-percentage shot.
But it wouldn’t come as a surprise that as the ball traveled along its arching path that somehow Heinsohn stuck a four-leaf clover on the ball to make sure it bounced off the backboard just right.
“Tatum’s a good offensive player,” Stevens said. “He can get his shot up. It was a well-challenged shot. It was a well-defended shot. Guess we were lucky it went in.”