Today marks the start of the holiday season, which can only mean one thing: big-budget movies are hitting theaters.
“Celtics-Bucks I: A New Hope” was a smash hit at the box office. Hollywood has already green-lit three sequels, with the potential for up to eight additional installments, depending on how seriously these teams take each other. Nevertheless, this game was one of the cinematic events of the early season, with the two preseason titans finally squaring off.
And it didn’t disappoint… I think.
It had all the features of a holiday blockbuster: a flu-game, a bounce-back performance, a giant monster for our heroes to defeat, electric lobs, clutch plays, and—above all else—the feeling of impending doom when the Celtics almost sold the entire bag in the 4th quarter.
The NBA public has had this game circled ever since the Celtics and Bucks started gearing up for war, and both teams clearly understood the magnitude of this game. However, it was awkward, cautious, and ultimately inconclusive. Both superstar number-ones Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jayson Tatum were clearly off somewhat, but movies are about which character steps up in the big moments.
And, despite some major plot twists, the Celtics brought bigger guns for the final battle. For the Celtics, last night’s game was 81 percent good, but with an irrefutable smattering of 19 percent bad hanging out in the corner. It smelled eerily like a complete choke job, but the Celtics’ two leaders actually showed exactly why I remain a card-carrying member of this core.
That was an excellent Jaylen Brown performance, and saw him take full advantage of his superpower of energy-shifting. Brown’s lows can feel really low, but for the last two years, no one else on the Celtics—not even Marcus Smart—was more capable of conjuring Bostonian energy and converting it into raw basketball destruction. Check it:
This was the first play of the game, and Jaylen chose to bring the hammer down immediately off of the jump ball. Even for NBA players, dunking is a choice, and Brown has always possessed more “I’m going to dunk on you” energy than any other Celtic. That one was also like his 3rd best dunk of the night, too, with an absolutely outrageous windmill slam that had me questioning if he had accidentally fractured the space-time continuum.
Despite definitely ceding the spotlight for most of the night, Jayson Tatum looked solid considering he came into the night with an illness. He continued torturing the Bucks’ perimeter defenders, specifically Khris Middleton, who cannot remotely keep up with Tatum these days.
Middleton used to be an elite wing defender, but surgeries and age have severely limited his impact against Tatum’s ever-expanding bag. It’s like watching an older dad try to guard his adult son in 1-on-1, as he slowly comes to the realization that he has been made athletically obsolete.
Tatum also continued to use his post game as a tool to annihilate smaller matchups, taking guys like Malik Beasley, Marjon Beauchamp, and Andre Jackson Jr. to church and back. Whatever sickness he had didn’t seem to hamper him too much, at least in the first three quarters.
But I guess cold medicine doesn’t last forever, because there were points in the fourth quarter where he looked ready to tap out. At one point, he walked into a pull-up three and missed the entire rim, which is the Jayson-Tatum-equivalent of saying he wanted to go home.
But that’s the thing about blockbuster movies: things don’t just work out. The Celtics were sitting pretty up 19 with 10 minutes left in the game when disaster struck. The rim had a lid on it, Celtics started standing around and Bucks started hitting shots. Dame Time had begun, and Lillard began heating up. It was a disaster, and I could feel the pressure closing in. Were the Celtics about to blow two games in three days? Were they really about to do this to me?
That’s the other thing about blockbuster movies: the hero doesn’t get to go home. They have to save the world first.
Tatum went crazy in the last 90 seconds, making two plays that qualify him for action hero status. With everything crumbling around him, and looking completely exhausted, he pulled this out of the bag:
This made me jump off my couch, and is probably my favorite single play of the season so far. Tatum used a screen to find a soft spot on the court, and, by sheer force of will, created a bucket out of thin air. Giannis could have completely destroyed that drive had he committed to bringing help, but he never got the chance to even think about it.
Tatum spun Lopez like a stand mixer, freezing Giannis and forcing him to attempt a hero steal instead of bringing help. Plenty of guys get dribbled past, but no help defender ever expects the on-ball assignment to be sent straight to the shadow realm. Tatum neutralized two of the best defenders in the NBA by himself in a gotta-have-it moment. Excuse me while I go run through a wall.
That was the part of the movie where you think the hero has defeated the final boss, but no, they’re still alive! Middleton and Lillard ran down and strapped two straight threes to send the Celtics back into DEFCON 1. Only up by three and staring down the most important possession of the game, Tatum demanded the ball and told everyone to get out of the way.
Tatum did not for one second consider passing this basketball. The dribble combos he put together on Middleton actually reminded me of prime James Harden, which isn’t usually something I throw around endearingly. But Tatum went full iso-mode, declaring that he was going to win this basketball game. That’s greatness.
Middleton tried his best, but Tatum bodied him off the lane like a runaway bus. He turned the corner with his left hand but kept up his momentum. By the time he had reached the paint, Middleton was riding his hip and the Bucks’ help was completely lost. From there, it was over.
Now, I defended Giannis’ help-defense IQ in the last clip, but I have no idea what he was doing here. For whatever reason, he shuffled right out of Tatum’s way, apparently concerned with the possibility of him swinging the rock to a completely blanketed Al Horford. He looked like a punter during a punt return, just trying to get out of the way and not look silly.
The game fizzled out with a couple customary free throws, and Tatum and Brown made it home having survived quite the ordeal. Kristaps Porzingis cracked a wry smile as the team rode off into the sunset, with Jrue Holiday winking at Giannis on the way out.
Queue the applause, roll the credits. Have a happy holiday, everyone!