CLEVELAND – Adversity has been a given with the Boston Celtics, so why would the season opener be any different?
Despite being without their prized free agent signing in the offseason for all but the first five minutes against Cleveland, the Celtics gave themselves a chance to win down the stretch only to come up short in a 102-99 loss.
Boston led in the fourth only for LeBron James to score a go-ahead basket to make it 99-98 and then force a Celtics turnover seconds later.
- Celtics lose Gordon Hayward to fractured left ankle
- Dr. Chihlas: Optimistically Gordon Hayward could be back by end of season
- Gorman: Gordon Hayward injury could deflate the Celtics for quite a while
- Isaiah Thomas visits Gordon Hayward in locker room after injury
- Paul George, J.J. Watt send Gordon Hayward wishes after gruesome injury
Following a time-out with 1:04 to play, Kevin Love hit a 3-pointer with 46.3 seconds to play to make it a 102-98 game.
The loss certainly hurts, but that pales in comparison to what losing Gordon Hayward for most if not all of this season, means to the Celtics after Hayward went down with fractured left ankle injury in the first quarter.
With the Celtics ahead 12-9, Kyrie Irving saw Hayward sprinting towards the rim and threw him an alley-oop pass.
LeBron James slid over and leaped to try and deflect it, which threw Hayward off balance in mid-air.
But Hayward didn’t land cleanly because ex-Celtic Jae Crowder, who was defending him on the play, made contact with Hayward’s lower body that resulted in an awkward landing for Hayward.
Video replays showed how contorted Hayward’s left ankle was, the kind of gruesome image that was in some ways reminiscent to the knee injury that derailed the career of Shaun Livingston.
While Livingston eventually returned to the floor and won a pair of NBA titles with the Golden State Warriors, but he was never the same player afterwards.
It’s far too soon to say exactly how Hayward’s injury will impact him this season, let alone for his career.
But there is no mistaking seeing him go down the way he did, clearly rattled the Celtics and for that matter, the NBA family.
Current and former NBA players took to social media offering of prayers of healing for Hayward, who was named to his first NBA All-Star team last season and signed a four-year, $127.8 million contract with the Celtics this summer.
As for the actual game, the Cavaliers steadily pulled away in the second quarter and remained in control for most of the second half in a victory that certainly had to feel a bit shallow.
It wasn’t because the Celtics were undermanned without Hayward, but more important, because he’s part of the NBA family and regardless of how competitive players are, they never, ever like to see one of their own go down with such a devastating injury.
Moments after Hayward went down, the looks of disappointment and pain were apparent. Inside the Celtics huddle, you saw Kyrie Irving’s head in the shoulder of a teammate.
Former Celtic Isaiah Thomas, now with the Cavs, was inside the Cavaliers locker room which is where they took Hayward initially.
When Thomas left, he nodded, and shook his head, saddened by what he saw in the locker room.
Despite the pain that all the Celtics were in following Hayward’s injury, there was still a game that had to be played.
And anything less than their best against the defending Eastern Conference champions, would make for a long night.
But the Celtics showed a resiliency in the third quarter that saw them climb back into things and made it a relatively close game.
Trailing 54-38 at the half, Boston tied the game at 69 following a Marcus Smart free throw, followed by a go-ahead basket by Smart that put Boston on top 71-69.
However, the Cavs ended the quarter with a 3-pointer by Derrick Rose which put them ahead 72-71 going into the fourth, an envious position for the Celtics all things considered.
Even if the Celtics had been whole with Hayward, defeating the Cavs was going to be an extremely tall task.
They have after all, been to the NBA Finals each of the last three seasons and are the odds-on favorite to get back there for a fourth straight year.
But the Celtics lost more than a key player when Hayward went down.
They lost their focus, that intangible edge to their team that was supposed to be one of their strengths against a Cleveland team that has plenty of firepower and weapons of its own.
The good news for both teams is that regardless of who came out on top, there are lessons to be learned for both teams.
Unfortunately for the Celtics, those lessons going forward are likely to come about without Hayward in the lineup for some time.