It was an hour after tip when Giannis gave Celtics fans something to clap about. They did the very thing you always do in that situation, where you give a light clap or two and say “heyyy” with a smirk and glance at your pal to the side. Giannis air-balled a free throw.
It was a charitable moment, a moment of unintentionally making sure that everyone who watched Giannis would at least smirk, Celtics fan or Bucks fan or not. For me (and a bunch of others) it was when he dunked on Aron Baynes, the exact guy whom I had requested two months ago that he dunk on in this game. This was no damn joke though.
Giannis delivered an evening that was at once torrid and cool, spectacular and typical. Like much of last season, he was the best player on the court, pouring in 37/13/3 along with three steals. He made one shot outside of the paint, and it was a step outside of the paint. Remember when he had to develop a jumper to become a superstar?
Earlier in the day, a colleague of mine asked if I had read the glowing story in The Ringer about the Bucks, the one by the usually-measured Jonathan Tjarks. (A couple days ago, a colleague of Tjarks had predicted Giannis to win MVP; both of them also predicted the Bucks to make the conference finals.) I told him that I had, and that I couldn’t imagine writing something so overly optimistic on Bucks.com. Before last year, I wrote an unpublished season preview wherein I predicted the Bucks to miss the playoffs.
After the game, Giannis:
“I think we’re capable of doing big things this year. We’ve just got to stay focused, stay grounded… and try to have the same mentality. We’re the underdogs. We’re not a big market team, we’re not a big team, we’re young, so we’ve just to play with a chip on our shoulder and hopefully this season we can be one of the best teams in the East.”
Nearly six months ago, in his most recent competitive game before the season-opening win in Boston, Giannis missed five of eight free throws in the fourth quarter of a season-ending 92–89 loss in Game 6 at home to the Raptors. In an otherwise supernatural performance with 34 points in 47 minutes while helping lead a 25-point comeback, he (of the career-best 77.0 percent from the line in the regular season) missed short on five free throws in the fourth.
As Celtics fans filed out on Wednesday night, Giannis calmly sunk two free throws to end the game 11–13 at the line and to end the game and to start the season.