Jayson Tatum rose up twice in three minutes with reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo all over him and hit both of his shots — one a fading jumper from the baseline and the other a go-ahead banked 3-pointer.
Antetokounmpo, meanwhile, missed a wide open effort several feet from the hoop and left the game’s deciding free throw short in the Celtics’ dramatic 122-121 win over the Bucks to begin their 2020-21 season.
What Tatum hopes will be the first campaign in which he makes a convincing MVP case got off to a scorching start against the incumbent. And what Boston hopes is a year of breakthroughs in the Eastern Conference began with a positive result against a possible playoff foe.
Tatum finished with 30 points and seven rebounds. Antetokounmpo posted a 35-point, 13-rebound line but also committed seven turnovers.
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The first significant late sequence involving Tatum and Antetokounmpo came with about three minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. Antetokounmpo weaved around a pick, ball in hand, to create an easy push-shot opportunity. He missed it. At the other end, Tatum drilled a jumper in his face.
Tatum then gave Boston the lead with a 3-point shot off the glass with 0.4 seconds left. Again, Antetokounmpo was assigned to the forward and unable to stop him.
After a questionable foul call gifted the Bucks a chance to send the game to overtime, Antetokounmpo missed what would have been a tying free throw.
The Bucks, featuring exciting newcomer Jrue Holiday, will need to wait a week for their next matchup with an East contender. They play the Heat in back-to-back games next Tuesday and Wednesday.