By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — A Celtics season that carries plenty of question marks and a mixed bag of expectations started with a bang on Wednesday, with Jayson Tatum lifting the C’s to a wild victory over the Milwaukee Bucks. Tatum’s game-winning three is a fantastic — and uplifting — way to give this team a jolt of confidence to start the new year.
It’s just the first game of 72, but admit it, that one felt good. Tatum and Jaylen Brown both put on a show, which they’re going to need to do with Kemba Walker out his bad knee. But the way Boston’s young duo played on Wednesday makes it seem like the Celtics can survive without Walker in the early parts of the season.
Tatum and Brown each topped 30 points, the first pair of Celtics teammates to score 30 or more in a season opener in franchise history. The team is now 10-1 all-time when they each score 25 or more.
It was in no way a perfect night for the Celtics, and it really took a complete team effort to pull out the win. While most of the pressure is on Tatum and Brown, their supporting cast has to do some heavy lifting as well for the team to succeed. They did just that on Wednesday, against a team the Celtics will be chasing all season long.
The Celtics showed us — or rather, reminded us — that they’re a team that won’t quit, and a team that can compete against the best in the league. They know they have a long ways to go to becoming a true title contender, but they’re going to put in the work this season.
Here are some takeaways from a thrilling opening night victory, none of which are overreactions to a single game. Not at all.
Jaylen Was Really The Star
Tatum’s shot is getting all the attention, but Brown was Boston’s best player on Wednesday night. Heck, he was the best player on the floor for most of the game.
Brown had a bumpy start, going just 2-for-7 from the floor in the first quarter, but once he got going there was no slowing him down. He sparked Boston’s second-quarter run with a 10-point flurry over the final two and a half minutes, and had 15 points by halftime. Brown also scored seven points while Tatum was on the bench during the third quarter, and put in eight points in the fourth.
Brown had his elbow jumper going, and he finished the night with 33 points off 13-for-24 shooting to go with five rebounds and four assists in his 38 minutes. Brown will always be seen as No. 2 to Tatum, but if he keeps playing like this it will be more of a 1 and 1A type situation.
The Bucks were the best defensive team in the league last year, and they added Jrue Holiday to the mix in the offseason The Celtics went out and dropped 122 points on 47.5 percent shooting on opening night.
Tatum’s Efficiency Needs Some Work
Tatum, however, was not Mr. Efficiency, which is one of his goals this season. He struggled to find his shot early and missed a handful of bunnies at the basket in the first half. At least his finish was pretty good.
Overall, Tatum was 12-for-28 on the night, which isn’t great. His final shot wasn’t a great one either, as Boston only needed two points for the win. It also looked like it was going to hit off the top of the backboard when it left his hands.
But it banked in for the winning points (Tommy Heinsohn must have had something to do with that, right?) and Tatum now has a truckload of confidence just one game into the new season. We’re guessing that won’t be his only game-winning highlight of the year.
Celtics Start Big
With Giannis the focus of the Boston defense, Brad Stevens had both Tristan Thompson and Daniel Theis in the starting lineup. It did not work out well in the first quarter, as Milwaukee had a field day in transition.
Stevens had to call an early timeout to stop a 6-0 Bucks run, with two of those baskets — a Giannis dunk and Donte DiVincenzo layup — coming because no Celtics got back on defense. Yes, you read that right, Stevens called a timeout to stop an opponent’s run.
Boston gave up 16 fast-break points in the first half, but locked in and allowed just two in the second half. And overall, Thompson had a solid Boston debut, finishing with 12 points and eight rebounds in his 22 minutes.
Jeff Teague Doesn’t Miss From Deep
We’re in for one historic season from Jeff Teague, because Boston’s reserve guard may not miss a three this season. He was a perfect 4-for-4 from deep on Wednesday, and when you bring in his triples from the preseason (the only bright spot from Boston’s preseason), he is 9-for-9 from downtown in a Celtics uniform.
“Thanks for jinxing me,” Teague responded when asked about his perfect night(s) from behind the arc.
OK, chances are he is going to miss a three at some point. But when that happens, he has plenty of other aspects of his game to fall back on.
Teague was a beast off the bench and brought some calmness to the Boston offense. That is huge during Walker’s absence. He finished with 19 points in 25 minutes, going 7-for-15 overall while dishing out four assists. His biggest play came in the final minutes, when Teague raced down the court and stripped DiVincenzo on a fast-break with the Bucks up by one point.
Jeff Teague. Great pickup.
Marcus Only Took Three Shots
Is this a whole new Marcus Smart? Admit it, you had a good laugh earlier this week when he said he wanted to improve his shot selection. This is Marcus Smart, a man who sees no shot as a bad shot.
But he’s now in Kemba’s role as playmaker and quarterback on offense, and his job is to set up the flow on that side of the ball. He did just that, finishing with seven assists. But the most eye-popping number is that Smart only took three shots. Three!
That’s usually a two-minute stretch for Marcus, but he really embraced his role as a facilitator on Wednesday. And he was still the Marcus we all know on defense, drawing three offensive fouls on Antetokounmpo.