Excitement for last night’s NBA season opener had been building for the Boston Celtics and their fans since July 4th when free agent Gordon Hayward decided to leave the Utah Jazz and reunite with his former coach, Brad Stevens in Boston. Two months later, Celtics General Manager and President of Basketball Operations, Danny Ainge would trade for point guard Kyrie Irving, further elevating expectations for the new-look Celtics. Less than six minutes into the first quarter of the first game all of the expectation, hope, and excitement for this season came crashing down alongside Gordon Hayward.
Hayward had probably run the same play hundreds of times throughout his basketball career without any problem, a simple cut to the basket for an alley-oop. Unfortunately for Gordon, this one ended with devastating consequences and, likely, a season-ending ankle injury. As he laid on the floor, his teammates and Cleveland Cavaliers players couldn’t bare to look, LeBron James consoled him, even venturing into the locker room where former Celtic, Isaiah Thomas, met Gordon as well.
To no one’s surprise, the Celtics struggled in the immediate aftermath of Hayward’s injury. Boston found themselves distraught, trailing 54-38 at the half. Celtics head coach Brad Stevens attempted to motivate his team, telling them they have to move on and the next man has to step up. His speech worked, the Celtics fought back behind strong performances from Kyrie Irving, Jaylen Brown, and rookie Jayson Tatum, eventually falling 102-99 to the Cavs.
In the second half, Boston mirrored last season’s team, gritty and playing with a chip on their shoulder. Jaylen Brown, now entering his second season, was one of the best players on the floor, pouring in 25 points to go with six rebounds. Jayson Tatum, who looked nervous in the first half, finished with a double-double of 14 points and ten rebounds. Kyrie was his normal self, accumulating 22 points and ten assists.
With Hayward, the Celtics had a chance to compete with Cleveland for the opportunity to go to the NBA Finals, without him it is nearly impossible but, it doesn’t mean Boston cannot salvage the season. A new perspective must be formed. Without Hayward a return to the Eastern Conference Finals is probably the best-case scenario for Boston. This season must now be seen as a means of improvement and team-building for the future.
Hayward’s absence means more opportunity for growth among young players. Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Terry Rozier, and Marcus Smart will get more minutes and with the right leadership, this will greatly benefit their future. Coach Stevens will undoubtedly do his part in helping the young guys. The entire Celtics organization and their fans are hoping that Kyrie Irving will be the leader he envisioned himself becoming when he requested a trade from Cleveland. The franchise is solely on his shoulders now.
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