Gregg Popovich’s debut tournament as coach for Team USA was supposed to be the continuation of Mike Krzyzewski‘s success as coach of the country’s greatest iterations. If that isn’t the case, the Boston Celtics may be the greatest victims of the NBA’s participation.
Boston Celtics fans have already received significant scares during the FIBA World Cup games in China. Jayson Tatum’s rolled ankle in Team USA’s narrow victory over Turkey was easily the spookiest.
Tatum stepped on Harrison Barnes’ foot during overtime in stomach-churning fashion. His free throws to end regulation were the reason Team USA didn’t lose in embarrassing fashion during the group stage of the tournament.
The #3 pick of the 2017 draft will miss several games in the tournament. At this rate, Team USA may not advance far enough to see him return. A potential matchup with Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Greece national team looms large for the second round.
If it seems like the Houdini is tough on this year’s Team USA, it’s because the thought that the Celtics’ participation in the game could ultimately be in vain is a legitimate one.
If it was just Tatum’s injury, that’d be anxiety-inducing in and of itself. Unfortunately, fellow Boston Celtics teammate Marcus Smart is also ailing from his participation in an underwhelming Team USA effort.
So far, the returns for what the Boston Celtics are investing into their country don’t seem to be adequate. After countless stars abandoned the games, it has been Kemba Walker, Tatum, and to a lesser degree, Jaylen Brown keeping the team afloat.
Walker has taken his act as lead man for the Charlotte Hornets to the international stage. Without him on the floor, Popovich’s schemes have suffered. Tatum elevated his play to be named a starter before his injury.
Brown may have to step into an even bigger role with Tatum out. At this point every Boston Celtics fan should be grabbing their rabbit’s foot to hope fate will avoid taking another member of the backcourt.
It would be a shame to see Team USA falter with the NBA being bigger than it ever has been around the globe. Sure, it could be spun as a testament to the gap between the world and the United States shrinking with FIBA-rules basketball.
However, it will be hard to see a failed tournament run as anything more than a waste of the efforts of the four most important members of the Boston Celtics.