Not All Is Lost, Celtics Nation
From what was a highly anticipated, national televised premier night for the NBA, it turned sour 6 minutes into the opening tip. Boston Celtic forward Gordon Hayward suffered a horrific foot injury that will most certainly force him out of game action until 2018, if not the entire 2017-2018 season. It was one of the most gruesome basketball injuries in some time. Players knew it right away. Team doctors and security guards rushed over to attend Hayward.
"I have never seen anything like that happen to anybody," Boston rookie Jayson Tatum said.
The entire Cleveland bench looked away in agony. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Derrick Rose all sat by the scorer’s table with their heads faced down. Quicken Loans arena was silent. The Boston Celtics huddled up near their bench to pray and regroup. They knew they had to stay strong, even if their minds were clouded at what the rest of the season might look like without their All-Star forward.
"The injury was tough, we had to pick ourselves up and continue with the season as best we can until he's back with us. We know G is going to be fighting to get back on the court. We just need to keep fighting."
- Kyrie Irving
As we all wish Gordon Hayward well on his recovery, not all is lost in Celtics nation.
Even with an unfortunate injury such as Hayward’s, as shitty as it sounds, there’s still basketball to be played. If there’s any silver lining to take from tonight, it’s the new opportunities for the Celtics young talent.
Sophomore Jaylen Brown took on Hayward’s role and finished the game with 25 points on 23 shots. He looked much improved from his rookie season, where he looks to be more aggressive and fearless as ever. He wasn’t shy on the offensive end, as he fully understands more than ever now the Celtics will need him to excel in a bigger role.
Marcus Smart started the 2nd half and showed the world he was still a bull dog, as he posted up taller players all night while also being a nuisance on the defensive end. Smart is arguably the Celtics best defensive ace, and he would emerge as their mental leader as well by showing toughness and grit. Smart led the charge as the Celtics were able to erase an 18-point deficit to make the game competitive. Smart would finish the game with an impressive 12 points, 9 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals, and 2 blocks.
Jayson Tatum’s coming out party was outstanding, as the rookie started the game and played 37 minutes, finishing with 14 points, 10 rebounds, and 3 assists. He will likely be thrown into the fire right away should Brad Stevens decide Marcus Morris might be a better fit to lead the 2nd unit when he returns to the lineup. Tatum’s development this season will have to progress faster than expected if the Celtics hope to find themselves in the Eastern Conference Finals again. Should Hayward return late into the season, a seasoned Tatum with more playing time, will benefit the Celtics for a deeper playoff push.
And finally, there’s Kyrie Irving. Irving will have to take his game to a level we haven’t seen before. He asked to be traded. He wanted out of Cleveland to be the alpha dog. Now he's got to be "The Man". He wanted to come out of LeBron James' shadow to show the world he is no sidekick. This is his chance, this is his moment that will define his career. Kyrie Irving will have to be special.
By special, I don’t mean just averaging 28 points and 7 assists to get you into the All-Star game. By special, I mean Kyrie will absolutely have to be the transcendent franchise-changing superstar he aspires to be sooner than the Celtics originally thought. Kyrie must be their leader, their general, their rock. Irving will have to demonstrate that he will be able to lead by example and carry a team on his back, even when times are rough. It's going to test his leadership without LeBron James, which is something new to his young career. Tuesday night was a good start. He looked like a much better passer than he showed in Cleveland, dishing out 10 assists tonight with only two turnovers, all while playing within the offense, going to his spots and hitting shots within the flow of the offense.
Irving will benefit from Brad Stevens crisp offensive sets, the same offensive sets which allowed Isaiah Thomas to average 29 points last season. Kyrie has always been one of the NBA's most potent scorers, with one of the best handles in the league, combined with his ability to shoot from anywhere on the court to finishing with either hand in the paint. Now he has the chance to fully utilize his talent to new heights.
On Tuesday, even when the Cavaliers seemed like they were ready to blow open the game, the Celtics showed poised and continue to fight. Down as much as 18 points in the 3rd quarter, the Celtics showed poised and continued to claw their way back into the game, leading by as much as 3 points with 2 minutes left. They would go on to lose the game, but they have little reason to hang their heads. They battled through an array of mixed emotions after losing their star forward, and could’ve tied the game had Brown or Irving hit the 3-pointers in the final seconds.
The trajectory of the Boston Celtics and the landscape of the Eastern Conference changed on Tuesday night, but I still believe the Celtics still has enough talent behind Kyrie and co. to reschedule a date with LeBron James in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Tonight’s opening night was supposed to be a celebration, but it was crushed by an unfortunate incident. Injuries are part of sports. It’s a gut-wrenching feeling for anyone who watched it unfold. However, the road to recovery is also part of the beauty in sports. We can only hope Gordon Hayward a speedy and strong return.