As far as early-September basketball goes, Tuesday was a good day for the Boston Celtics.
Boston doesn’t open the regular season for another month, but the organization has to feel good about what it saw in Team USA’s win over Turkey at the FIBA World Cup in Shanghai.
The Americans eked out a nail-biting 93-92 overtime win thanks in large part to the C’s representing Boston in the international tournament.
Assuming it doesn’t come at a cost — Celtics swingman Jayson Tatum suffered an ankle injury in the final seconds — Tuesday’s win represented a small sample size of the potential the new-look Green could have in 2019-20.
Tatum actually had a chance to win the game with 0.1 seconds left in regulation when he was fouled on a 3-point attempt from the top of the key. He missed the second shot but made the other two, prolonging the game when the Americans looked dead in the water at the end of regulation.
Turkey had built a five-point lead in overtime when new Celtics point guard Kemba Walker took over. He cut the lead to two with a 3-pointer. The Americans got a stop at the defensive end, and then Walker put a Turkish defender in a blender with a mesmerizing dribbling sequence that led to a step-back, fadeaway mid-range jumper to tie the game at 89.
Tatum did his part, mainly on the defensive end, which is an area of the game he’s focusing on during the World Cup. He gave Team USA a lead when he forced a steal and went coast-to-coast for a go-ahead layup. Later, with the U.S. leading by two, Tatum matched Turkey guard Scott Wilbekin step for step before disrupting a jump shot that clanked off the back rim.
Turkey eventually regained the lead and had a chance to ice the game on the offensive end when Walker stepped up and drew a charging foul on Wilbekin. Turkey had an even better chance to ice the game with four free throws but missed all four, leaving the door wide open. Even then, Turkey had the ball with a chance to extend a one-point lead, but the Americans came up with the stop. Tatum grabbed the rebound on a missed shot and took it the length of the court where he dished off to Khris Middleton, who was fouled and ultimately made both free throws.
Celtics guard Marcus Smart even chipped in off the bench in the final 2 seconds as a defensive replacement for the injured Tatum. Smart shadowed Ersan Ilyasova and forced the Milwaukee Bucks forward to miss the final game-winning attempt.
All in all, a great showing for the Celtics, save for Jaylen Brown who played just over 6 minutes. Walker finished the game with a team-high 26 points to go along with seven assists, while Tatum scored 16 and pulled down a team-high 11 rebounds.
All things considered, an early-September World Cup win over Turkey isn’t much to get excited about, but it’s also hard to watch that performance and not be at least intrigued as to what the Celtics could have moving forward after an extremely disappointing 2018-19 campaign.
Thumbnail photo via Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY Sports Images