Celtics

Celts' rally after Hayward injury falls short in 102-99 loss to Cavs

Celts' rally after Hayward injury falls short in 102-99 loss to Cavs

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.

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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. 

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Marcus Smart is fortunate to be returning this season

Marcus Smart is fortunate to be returning this season

BOSTON – When it comes to sports-related injuries, much like the games that are played, it really does become a matter of inches.

For Marcus Smart, that minuscule a distance was the difference between his right-hand laceration after punching a picture frame keeping him sidelined for a few weeks or ending his season.

Fortunately for Smart, the former proved to be his fate as he rejoined the Celtics for practice on Wednesday after missing the previous 11 games.

“I’m back. It feels good to be back with these guys and the coaching staff,” Smart said.

But after the incident which required 20 stitches, Smart said the doctors explained to him how fortunate he was that the injury wasn’t more severe and wouldn’t require season-ending surgery.

“They pulled a glass piece out of the palm of my hand,” Smart said. “And they said there two tendons that ran along the pinkie and the glass was sitting right in between them.

Smart said if the glass would have hit the tendons he would have most likely had to have season-ending surgery.

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens was aware of how close Boston was at losing Smart for the rest of the season.

“It was … I’m sure he would second this, it wasn’t a very good move,” Stevens said. “You don’t want to put yourself in that risk. Luckily, what happened, happened. His hand looks a lot better and that is encouraging.”

Said Smart: “I felt I let my team down. But I got a second chance to come back and redeem myself.”

As reported by NBC Sports Boston earlier today, Smart has been given the medical clearance to suit up for Boston’s next game which is at Detroit on Friday.

His return comes at a time when the Celtics (40-19) are looking to get back on track after what has been a rough patch of games recently.

Boston has lost three straight and four of its last five games. And the lone victory was an overtime win against the Washington Wizards.

Since Smart’s injury, the Celtics have gone 6-5 in his absence.

And within those 11 games, Boston’s numbers on several fronts have taken a slight dip.

Boston’s top-ranked defense slipped down to No. 11 with a defensive rating of 105.2 within the last 11 games missed by Smart.

And the success Boston has experienced this season has been heavily influenced by the play of Smart.

His defensive rating this season is 98.9 which stands out on several levels, the most notable one being how he stacks up against others defensively that log major minutes.

Among players that average at least 30 minutes per game, Smart’s defensive rating of 98.9 is tops among in the league with teammates Jayson Tatum (99.8, third in the league), Jaylen Brown (100.3, fifth) and Al Horford (101.0, seventh) all ranked among the league’s leaders.

Not surprisingly, Smart’s teammates are excited to have him back in the fold.

“There’s no question having Marcus back, makes our defense a lot better,” Horford said.

Boston’s Kyrie Irving echoed similar sentiments about Smart.

“He adds a very unique understanding of the game, at both ends of the floor,” Irving said. “We all know how great he is defensively, so he adds to our team … it’s great.”

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Marcus Smart cleared to play Friday

Marcus Smart cleared to play Friday

According to league sources, Celtics guard Marcus Smart was back in Boston on Tuesday and had a private workout with the team. He has been officially cleared to practice tonight and play Friday when the Celtics return after the All-Star break to play the Pistons in Detroit.

Smart has been out since he lacerated his hand swiping at a picture frame in his hotel room after a Celtics' loss to the Lakers in Los Angeles on Jan. 25.

The Celtics have lost three in a row and four of five heading into the All-Star break to drop behind the Toronto Raptors for the best record in the East and losing Smart's defense has been a key part of their recent slump.