The figurative balloon that was carrying the Boston Celtics’ aspirations and floating high in the sky ahead of the new season was punctured in mere minutes of the games finally counting.
But while in the immediate aftermath of Gordon Hayward’s ghastly ankle injury it felt as if all the air had been let out, that balloon hasn’t fully popped, even if it is now harmlessly falling back down to Earth.
Make no mistake. Boston were relying heavily on Hayward to transition into a new era – one built upon the pillars of the All-Star wing and fellow newcomer Kyrie Irving. His absence, which could be for the entire season as he recovers from a dislocated ankle and fractured tibia, is as undeniably painful as it was to watch.
Yet moments like those force us to cling to any positives and have a greater perspective, as difficult as that may initially be.
And the first positive appears to be that Hayward has avoided a career-threatening injury. For as mangled as his lower leg looked – if you could stomach more than the initial glimpse – Hayward is reportedly dealing with a clean break and has avoided any ligament or blood vessel damage.
Doctors and non-doctors alike will have their own opinions as to how long that will keep him on the shelf, so it’s pointless to speculate until we hear any official word from Boston and their medical team. But even if there’s a sliver of hope that Hayward could return before the playoffs begin, as there seems to be considering the aforementioned early reports, Boston’s situation begins to look slightly less daunting.
Even if we set aside any optimism and resign ourselves to a reality in which Hayward misses the entire season, the bottom hasn’t completely fallen out for his team.
The Celtics still have Irving, who is arguably their best player, and someone who has embraced the great expectations that have been placed on his shoulders.
They also still have the perennially underrated Al Horford, who may be the most important piece of the offense due to the spacing, playmaking and overall cohesion he brings to the table.
More than anything though, Hayward’s injury creates a wealth of opportunities for the Celtics’ young foursome: Marcus Smart, Terry Rozier, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum.
Smart came into the season – as cliché as it sounds – in the best shape of his life after slimming down to regain quickness. His bulldog defence has never been questioned, but he’s made strides on the other end of floor. More is expected and Smart, in a contract year, won’t be lacking motivation.
Rozier, meanwhile, has steadily improved over his two years to earn more trust from coach Brad Stevens. He’s also a disruptive defender and a sneaky rebounder whose biggest room for growth comes with the ball in his hands.
The real burden left behind, however, will fall on Brown and to a lesser extent Tatum.
The pair of third overall draft picks started the opener – an impressive feat considering they’re 20 and 19, respectively, and were going up against LeBron James.
It’s been a small sample size, but both have already shown great potential for the major roles they’re likely to occupy this season.
Reaching the Eastern Conference Finals again is still an attainable goal for Boston. Their ceiling has been lowered but they have no choice but to go on. All is not lost, even if it feels like it is.
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The new NBA season was less than six minutes old when disaster struck for the Boston Celtics on Tuesday in the form of a gruesome ankle injury to forward Gordon Hayward.
The former Utah star, who inked a four-year, $128 million deal with the Celtics in the off-season, landed hard 5:15 into the game after a leaping cut to the basket, trying to catch an alley-oop pass from Kyrie Irving.
Players from both teams looked shocked as Hayward, his ankle turned at a sickening angle, was attended by medical staff and rushed off on a stretcher.
Irving, the former Cavaliers star who landed in Boston after a shock off-season trade request, said it was one of the worst injuries he’d ever seen.
“It’s not a great sight to see,” Irving said.
Irving’s return to Cleveland was supposed to be the story of the night.
He was booed lustily by Cavaliers fans — including when he lofted a shot over superstar LeBron James for the season’s first basket.
James said he had plenty of fond memories of playing alongside Irving, reaching three straight NBA Finals and winning a title with him in 2016.
“But once the ball went up, it was kind of back to our regularly scheduled program,” James said.
The Cavs led 54-38 at half-time and stretched the lead to 61-43 early in the third quarter.
The Celtics fought back and were up 98-95 before Kevin Love made two free throws, James followed with a layup and then assisted on Love’s three-pointer that gave Cleveland a 102-98 lead. Irving missed a driving shot and a three-pointer at the buzzer and the Cavs prevailed.
James scored 29 points with 16 rebounds and nine assists — but said he still needs to work on his fitness after missing most of the pre-season with a sprained left ankle.
He also said it would take some time before he, Love and new additions Derrick Rose and Dwayne Wade, are operating together at full capacity.
“We’ve got some things we need to figure out,” James said. “It’s a work in progress, for sure.”
The online community rushed to wish Hayward a speedy recovery. Here’s a sample of the reaction…
🙏🏽🙏🏽 For @gordonhayward. Come back stronger!
— Stephen Curry (@StephenCurry30) October 18, 2017
Prayers up @gordonhayward. Wishing you a healthy recovery.
— James Harden (@JHarden13) October 18, 2017
My prayers to @gordonhayward. Hope to see you back on the court soon🙏🏼
— Zaza Pachulia (@zaza27) October 18, 2017
God bless you bro @gordonhayward ! 🙏🏾 help him thru this god!
— Paul George (@Yg_Trece) October 18, 2017
Hate to see @gordonhayward go down like that. I know he will be back stronger and wish him the best recovery possible.
— Rudy Gobert (@rudygobert27) October 18, 2017
— Rudy Gay (@RudyGay) October 18, 2017
Prayers up for Gordon Hayward.
— Elena Delle Donne (@De11eDonne) October 18, 2017
Praying for my guy @gordonhayward!!! NEVER want to see any of the guys go through anything like that.
— DeAndre Jordan (@DeAndre) October 18, 2017
— Dwight Howard (@DwightHoward) October 18, 2017
No way… that ain’t fair…
— Ricky Rubio (@rickyrubio9) October 18, 2017
Wow…thats horrific…feel awful for Hayward
— Jeremy Lin (@JLin7) October 18, 2017
😔 that ain’t fair man
— Nicholas Kyrgios (@NickKyrgios) October 18, 2017
Mannnn just saw Hayward 😟😟 that’s so tough 😞
— Thanasi Kokkinakis (@TKokkinakis) October 18, 2017
Boston Celtics forward Gordon Hayward suffered a horrific ankle injury just six minutes into his debut with the team as they lost 102-99 to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Hayward had been attempting to finish off an alley-oop pass from Kyrie Irving when he collided with LeBron James and Jae Crowder on the way up before landing awkwardly.
Players looked visibly shaken as Hayward lay on the court in agony with a clearly twisted left ankle.
LeBron gives Gordon Hayward some words of encouragement following his injury. pic.twitter.com/VW4HDDoP2k
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) October 18, 2017
The Celtics later confirmed that the 27-year-old had suffered a fractured ankle – a heavy blow for the team, who had hoped their star recruit would help to close the gap on the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference.
The Cavaliers led 54-38 at half-time and stretched the lead to 61-43 just 2:03 into the third quarter on a Kevin Love free throw.
But the Celtics battled back to take a 71-69 lead before the Cavs regained a slim 72-71 edge going into the fourth quarter.
Boston were up 98-95 before Love sank two free throws, James followed with a layup and then assisted on a 3-pointer by Love that gave the Cavaliers a 102-98 lead.
Irving made a free throw to pull Boston within the final margin, but Irving drove to the hoop against Rose and missed a shot that James rebounded.
A final Cleveland miss gave Boston one last chance to equalize. Irving missed a three-pointer at the buzzer, then got a hug from James.
— Cleveland Cavaliers (@cavs) October 18, 2017