Team USA reward still outweighs the risk despite Jayson Tatum injury

Team USA reward still outweighs the risk despite Jayson Tatum injury

Every Celtics’ fan worst nightmare became reality Tuesday when Jayson Tatum’s left ankle turned awkwardly after he delivered what was essentially a game-winning pass during the closing seconds of Team USA’s overtime win against Turkey at the FIBA championships.

Tatum grimaced in pain and needed the help of two Team USA staffers to limp off the court. The team later announced that Tatum had a left ankle sprain and would be reevaluated on Wednesday.

The swift and understandable reaction from Boston fans was to scream that this is exactly why you don’t want your team’s players involved in international basketball. But offseason injuries are not FIBA exclusive and while it’s certainly a danger that players take to play for their country, the reward almost always outweighs that risk.

Where else this summer would Tatum be standing in front of a hostile crowd full of Turkey supporters shooting must-have free throws in the closing seconds of regulation? Tatum drew a foul with 0.1 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter and Team USA down by 2, then made two of his three freebies just to prevent the Americans from an embarrassing group-play defeat.

Where else this summer would Tatum find himself needing to push the ball up the court and make the right decision with his team down by one in the closing seconds of overtime? Tatum collected a monster rebound of a missed free throw and, with eight seconds to go, pushed the ball up the court before a little bounce pass put Khris Middleton at the free throw line to win the game.

Tatum’s left ankle bent awkwardly as he neared the charge circle on that transition feed after a Turkish defender rushed in front of him to foul Middleton. Tatum crumpled to the floor and Celtics fans will cling to hope that it’s the sort of sprain that will heal before Boston convenes for the start of camp later this month.

There will be consternation now that Tatum was on the floor. He will become the poster child for why the NBA’s biggest names bailed on this year’s tournament. It’s simply an overly emotional response.

Even Celtics coach Brad Stevens brushed off the notion that an injury was the team’s biggest fear when allowing players to participate in international basketball.

"I don’t even really think about [the potential for injury],” Stevens told reporters at a community event Tuesday morning after Tatum’s injury. "I think at the end of the day, they’re going to be playing 5-on-5 other places. I don’t think you can get any better [playing in the summer] than doing what those guys are doing. They’re playing in environments where everybody’s rooting against them, in tight games. And I always say that the first road game of the year, it hits you like a ton of bricks. These guys are doing it in late August, early September.

"I got a lot of a lot of admiration for [Team USA’s] staff… and I think [the players are] doing a great job. Kemba [Walker] was amazing in the fourth quarter today and overtime today [versus Turkey]. And then Tatum obviously made huge plays. We’re hopeful that [the ankle injury is] nothing major but we don’t know yet.”

Tatum shook off a somewhat disappointing exhibition stint with Team USA to play two very good games against Turkey and the Czech Republic to open group play. When it looked like Team USA was going to collapse against Turkey, it was Tatum and new Celtics teammate Kemba Walker who saved them each time. Tatum and Walker scored or assisted on all 12 of Team USA’s points in overtime with the duo pairing up for seven straight points after the Americans fell behind by five with under three minutes to go.

The ankle injury is frustrating, if for no other reason that it will rob us all of an opportunity to see Tatum further emerge on a big stage. He started both games so far in group play and, despite some struggles finishing at times, the flashes he showed were incredibly positive regarding his potential this coming season.

Tatum’s absence could open the door for more time for Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart. Celtics fans, gun shy now after watching Tatum roll his ankle and still not quite over Gordon Hayward’s horrific ankle injury from the 2017-18 opener, will watch the rest of the games with their eyes partially covered hoping no one else gets dinged up.

Injuries happen. Tatum will be a better player next season because of his Team USA experience. That much is obvious simply from the play he injured himself on.

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Celtics vs. Kings Instant Overreactions: C's starting to feel Gordon Hayward's absence?

AP photo

Celtics vs. Kings Instant Overreactions: C's starting to feel Gordon Hayward's absence?

The Boston Celtics had their 10-game win streak snapped on Sunday as they fell to the Sacramento Kings, 100-99.

It came down to the final buzzer as Marcus Smart's last-second floater hung on the rim, but failed to fall into the basket.

Here are three instant overreactions from the loss, which brings the C's to 10-2 on the season:

1. The C's are starting to feel Gordon Hayward's absence.

Verdict: Overreaction

The Celtics have looked out of sync offensively in their last couple of games. Friday night's close call vs. the lowly Golden State Warriors left plenty to be desired, and their struggles in Sunday's loss didn't do much to inspire confidence either as they turned the ball over 14 times.

If we see one or two more lackluster performances like this on the West Coast road trip, it may be time to start counting down the days until Hayward's return. But for now, I'm willing to give the C's talented offensive unit the benefit of the doubt.

2. Jaylen Brown and Buddy Hield both are showing they're worth every penny.

Verdict: Not an overreaction

Jaylen Brown finished with 18 points and eight rebounds, going 4-for-7 from 3-point range. Once again, he was one of Boston's standout performers on the offensive side and is backing up his statement about his game improving.

As for Hield, he continues to reward the Kings for signing him to a four-year, $86 million contract extension last month. The Celtics simply had no answer for the Indiana product, who dropped 35 points while going 7-for-12 in 3-pointers. Hield also drilled a key 3 late in the fourth quarter to help Sacramento come out on top.

3. Semi Ojeleye is the new Steph Curry.

Verdict: Not an overreaction

OK, fine, it may be a SLIGHT overreaction. Still, Ojeleye surprised everyone by going 3-for-4 from beyond the arc and tallying 11 points off the bench. He was one of the bright spots in the Celtics' disappointing loss.

Don’t miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Suns, which tips off Monday at 8 p.m. ET with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Mike & Scal have the call of the game at 9 p.m. You can also stream the game through the MyTeams App.

Celtics-Kings Takeaways: C's 10-game win streak snapped in Sacramento

Celtics-Kings Takeaways: C's 10-game win streak snapped in Sacramento

So. Close. 

Marcus Smart’s potential game-winning floater as time expired hit seemingly every part of the rim, paused for a moment before rolling out as time expired in Boston’s 100-99 loss to Sacramento. 

‘It was a good look in that moment,” Boston’s Brad Stevens told reporters after the loss. 

The loss snapped Boston’s 10-game winning streak, in addition to preventing them from being the first team in NBA history to win 11 in a row after dropping the season opener.

Sacramento (5-7), after dropping their first five games this season, have now won five of their last seven with the lone losses being a road game at defending NBA champion Toronto and a controversial defeat to the Los Angeles Lakers.  

After spending most of the first half playing catch-up, the Celtics — in all-too predictable form — swung the game’s momentum in their favor in the third quarter to take a 75-71 lead into the fourth quarter despite the offensive fireworks put on by Sacramento’s Buddy Hield (game-high 35 points). 

In the fourth, Boston’s slim lead didn’t last long with the Kings tying the game at 75 less than a minute into the quarter, only for Carsen Edwards to drain a 3-pointer to put Boston back on top, 78-75.

Things remained close for the rest of the game before Smart’s potential game-winner rolled out as time expired.  

Here are some takeaways from Boston’s one-point loss at Sacramento.


We have come to expect the best from Kemba Walker when the game matters most: the fourth quarter. That was not the case on Sunday, with Walker going scoreless in the fourth quarter to finish with just 15 points. You certainly love the season-high nine assists he tallied, but Walker’s greatest impact on this team night-in, night-out is his scoring down the stretch.


The Kings gave Hield a four-year contract extension worth as much as $106 million, and he showed on Sunday why he's worth every penny. Time and time again, he came up with one big shot after another while often being draped by Boston's best perimeter defender — and one of the best in the NBA — Marcus Smart.  Hield led all scorers with 35 points on an efficient 14-for-24 shooting performance from the field.


One of the biggest keys to the Celtics’ fast start to the season has been their ability to limit their mistakes. They came into Sunday’s game averaging a league-low 11.7 per game. On Sunday, the Celtics committed 12 of their 15 turnovers in the first half alone.


Ojeleye hit a big 3-pointer in the second quarter, capping off a 7-0 Celtics run to bring Boston within four points (36-32) with 6:30 to play in the first half. He would finish the day with 11 points on 4-for-5 shooting from the field, including a career-high-tying three 3-pointers. It was indeed a breakout scoring game for Ojeleye who came into Sunday’s game having scored just 14 points in Boston’s 11 games this season. 


While his play doesn’t necessarily find a home on the Celtics’ highlight reel, there’s no getting around the impact that Daniel Theis continues to make on this team. Usually he does it by excelling at intangibles such as setting screens, boxing out and rolling to the basket. But on Sunday, Theis’s impact was made in the more traditional sense: getting points. He finished with a season-high 14 points and 10 rebounds for his first double-double this season. It was also the second time in the last three games Theis has reached double figures scoring. 


The Celtics did not shoot the ball well against the Kings, but their aggressive play offensively led to a number of trips to the free throw line, which was a huge difference-maker in the game’s outcome. For the game, the Celtics were 21-for-24 from the line, compared to the Kings who were just 10-for-12 at the free throw line, which included Richaun Holmes’ game-winning free throws with 13.3 seconds to play. 

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Don’t miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Suns, which tips off Monday at 8 p.m. ET with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Mike & Scal have the call of the game at 9 p.m. You can also stream the game through the MyTeams App.