LOS ANGELES – Boston forward Jayson Tatum banked in a game-winning three-pointer over Giannis Antetokounmpo with 1.5 seconds left to give the Celtics an 122-121 NBA season-opening victory over the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday (Dec 23).
Antetokounmpo, the two-time defending NBA Most Valuable Player, had a chance to tie it from the free-throw line with four-tenths of a second left, but the Greek superstar missed his second free throw after being fouled at the rim and the Celtics came away with the win on their home floor.
“Ever since I was a kid I wanted to be in that position,” Tatum said of stepping up despite a relatively poor shooting night.
He finished with 30 points but connected on just 12 of 28 shots from the floor.
“I don’t know what my field goal percentage was, but I know I played terrible,” said Tatum, who also pulled down seven rebounds and handed out two assists. “But it’s a team game. Everybody contributed. It’s the first one of the season, so it felt good to get a win.”
Jaylen Brown led the Celtics with 33 points, five rebounds and four assists.
Antetokounmpo, who last week signed a five-year contract extension reportedly worth a record US$228 million (S$303 million), led Milwaukee with 35 points, 13 rebounds, two assists and two blocked shots.
Khris Middleton added 27 points and 14 rebounds for the Bucks, who finished the 2019-20 regular season with the best record in the National Basketball Association (NBA) but fell to the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference semi-finals.
The nail-biter in Boston was one of a dozen games on the second night of the 2020-21 season.
It was supposed to be 13, but Houston’s home opener against the Oklahoma City Thunder was postponed as Covid-19 concerns – including James Harden’s violation of anti-virus protocols that cost the superstar a US$50,000 (S$66,450) fine – left the Rockets with less than the required eight players available to stage the game.
He was ineligible after the league found he attended a party on Monday in violation of protocols prohibiting players from attending indoor gatherings of more than 15 people.
The Rockets also had three players return positive or inconclusive coronavirus tests, and four other players were isolated due to contact tracing.
It was a sooner-than-expected jolt for a league that managed to crown the Los Angeles Lakers champions in a quarantine bubble in Florida just over two months ago but is now launching a season in which teams are playing in their home arenas as coronavirus cases continue to surge.
One day after the Lakers launched their title defence with a loss to the LA Clippers, the Miami Heat – who fell to the Lakers in the championship series – were also beaten.
Evan Fournier scored 25 points for Orlando and the Magic downed the Heat 113-107.
Terrence Ross scored 19 points and Nikola Vucevic and Markelle Fultz added 15 points each for the Magic, who trailed by two points with less than five minutes remaining.
Bam Adebayo led the Heat with 25 points and 11 rebounds.
Russell Westbrook impressed in his Washington Wizards debut, notching the first triple-double of the fledgling season with 21 points, 11 rebounds and 15 assists for his new team who nevertheless fell 113-107 to the Philadelphia 76ers.
Westbrook, traded to Washington by the Rockets for John Wall, notched the 147th triple-double of his career as he chases Oscar Robertson’s NBA record of 181.
Bradley Beal added 31 points for the Wizards, but 76ers big man Joel Embiid scored 15 of his 29 points in the fourth quarter and pulled down 14 rebounds for the 76ers, playing for the first time under new coach Doc Rivers.
Elsewhere, No. 1 draft pick Anthony Edwards came off the bench to score 15 points for Minnesota and the Timberwolves rallied for a 111-101 victory over the Detroit Pistons.
Malik Beasley led the Timberwolves with 23 points. Karl-Anthony Towns added 22 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists, his three-pointer with 3:06 to play giving Minnesota their first lead of the game 98-97.
It was an inauspicious debut for the third overall pick in November’s draft, LaMelo Ball, who went scoreless in 16 minutes for the Charlotte Hornets, who fell 121-114 to the Cavaliers in Cleveland.
Ball, younger brother of New Orleans Pelicans guard Lonzo Ball, handed out three assists and came up with two steals.
Cleveland native Terry Rozier scored 42 points for the Hornets and Gordon Hayward, who joined the Hornets as a free agent from Boston, added 28. But Charlotte could not get past a Cavaliers team, who had seven players score in double figures led by the 27 of guard Collin Sexton.