Certainly, it could have been worse. Near the end of Tuesday’s overtime Team USA win over Turkey at the FIBA World Cup in China, forward Jayson Tatum was seen being helped off the court, unable to put pressure on his left leg.
But that angst soon was alleviated when it became clear that Tatum suffered only an ankle sprain. “It feels better than when it first happened,” Tatum said. “I can walk a little bit. Obviously, it’s sore … just get some treatment and see how I feel.”
A sigh of relief in Boston, where Tatum is expected to take a third-season leap forward and make a bid to be an All-Star in 2019-20. But back in China, where Team USA has foundered despite winning the first two games of its World Cup showing, there is concern.
Tatum will miss the Americans’ next game, what should be an easy win in the Group E finale against Japan, on Thursday and has been ruled out for the first of Team USA’s second-round matchups, which begin Saturday. That could be troublesome because the U.S. is likely to face Greece in that game, should the Greeks beat New Zealand.
Tatum Injury Comes After Stars Pulled out of Team USA’s World Cup Bid
Tatum’s injuries raised the question, as so often happens, of whether NBA players should be participating in these international tournaments at all. The Celtics have three other players, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and Kemba Walker, playing for USA Basketball.
Big men Vincent Poirier (France) and Daniel Thies (Germany) are two other Celtics competing in the World Cup.
Celtics coach Brad Stevens happened to be at an event at Boston Children’s Hospital and supported Tatum’s participation with Team USA. “At the end of the day, they’re going to be playing 5-on-5 other places,” Stevens said, according to MassLive.com. “I don’t think you can get any better prep than doing what those guys are doing.”
But fear of injury was one of the driving factors behind the talent drop-off in this year’s edition of Team USA. DeMar DeRozan, Damian Lillard, Anthony Davis, James Harden and C.J. McCollum were among the players who pulled out of consideration after being in the original pool, while big names like LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Paul George withdrew from consideration from the outset.
Bradley Beal withdrew because he’s slated to become a father.
With Greece Likely Ahead, Tatum Injury Further Clouds Team USA’s Future
After the Japan game closes its Group E draw, Team USA will move to Group K and face a string of opponents with the capability of beating them. It’s likely the team will face Greece, and reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, on Saturday, and potentially Brazil on Monday.
They’ll need at least one win to advance in the World Cup, and the game against the Greeks will be especially difficult, as Greece is fighting for its tournament life.
Tatum has struggled with his shooting (31.8 percent) but is averaging 10.5 points and 7.5 rebounds in two games. He was fouled on a 3-pointer with 0.1 remaining in regulation in the win over Turkey and made two of three free throws to send the game into overtime.
Tatum will be needed for the U.S. to avoid an upset, but the ankle injury throws an already shaky World Cup team into further disarray.
READ NEXT: Must-See Sports Headlines for September 4