BOSTON – Jayson Tatum was as surprised as anyone when told that fellow Celtics rookie Guerschon Yabusele was making his first NBA start about one hour before opening tip Wednesday night at TD Garden.
“Who’s starting?” he asked.
“I didn’t know that. But Guerschon – that’s my man. I’m happy for him.”
Tatum then hollered to Yabusele at his locker across the room: “Hey Guersch! I’m happy for you!”
A little more than 48 hours after he was summoned from the Maine Red Claws in what was supposed to be an extended G-League stint, the rookie from Nice, France — who had played 110 minutes all season — was starting in a nationally televised game against the Washington Wizards.
“It’s pretty crazy,” Yabusele said before the game. “It’s amazing that I was in the G-League a couple of days ago. I had to fly here, come here. Then they told me I’m about to start. I’m pretty excited. I’m just focused on bringing energy and trying to win the game.”
With 80 percent of the preseason starting lineup — plus two key bench rotation players — out of action amid a sudden and devastating onslaught of injury news, Celtics coach Brad Stevens was forced to dig deep for his starting five. He came up with Yabusele at power forward to go with Aron Baynes at center, Marcus Morris at small forward, Terry Rozier at point guard and Tatum at shooting guard.
The bench consisted of Kadeem Allen, Shane Larkin, Greg Monroe, Abdel Nader and Semi Ojeleye.
“When you tell a guy he’s going to the G-League for a month,” Stevens said, “or an extended period of time — I’m not sure that he hears when you say: ‘And you’d better be ready when you get back.’ And all that goes into that. I think he’s probably thinking about: ‘I probably won’t play a lot.’
“But that’s why you do it. That’s why those guys are so valuable up there to get minutes while you can.”
There was some good news on the injury and illness front when it came to Jaylen Brown (concussion), Kyrie Irving (sore left knee) and Al Horford (flu-like symptoms), not so much when it came to Daniel Theis (torn meniscus), and still a lot of uncertainty when it comes to Marcus Smart’s right thumb.
Stevens said before the game Horford would travel with the team to Orlando on Thursday and is expected back for Friday night’s game against the Magic. He added that Irving would also travel and could be cleared for one of the two games on the short road trip.
Irving had been expected to miss extended time to rest the knee with an eye toward being ready for April.
“Kyrie’s been a little bit better each day,” Stevens said. “Everything looked great (on imaging tests), which is good. Just got some soreness and pain in his knee. Not something you wouldn’t guess he would have some of (at this point of the season). But, obviously, creeping up twice in 10 days you want to be very careful of that.”
Stevens said Brown will miss the trip, and is dealing with “a little bit of a headache,” but is feeling better overall and could begin moving through the NBA concussion protocol this weekend.
The coach did said Theis would miss the rest of the season following meniscus surgery, and that Smart will look for a second opinion when it comes to his thumb injury suffered diving to the floor in Sunday’s loss to the Indiana Pacers.
“Assessing how significant the ligament damage through our (medical staff),” Stevens said. “Going to talk to another doctor about what the chances are for him to play without furthering the injury. Also if it necessitates surgery or not, and what the recovering time would be.
“After all that information is gathered, a decision will be made. We’ll know more next week.”
Tatum dealing with back tightness
With six players — including Gordon Hayward (ankle surgery) — already listed as “OUT” on the injury report, it came with extra alarms early on Wednesday when Tatum was added with “lower back tightness.”
He said before the game he was fine.
“I, like, slept wrong,” he said. “I woke up and my back was tight. I guess I’ve got to sleep better."
“Getting old,” the 20-year-old added. “Getting old.”