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The season could not have gotten off to a better start for Gordon Hayward.
He was scoring at a clip we hadn’t seen since his days in Utah.
His playmaking and rebounding were on a noticeable upswing as well.
And the team was winning; winning at a level we had not seen under seventh-year coach Brad Stevens.
And just like that, all of the upbeat, optimistic progress Hayward has made was taken away following a broken left hand injury suffered in the first half of Boston’s game against San Antonio on Saturday.
According to the Celtics: Gordon Hayward has been diagnosed with a left hand fracture. Here's the play where it happened: pic.twitter.com/Vwd3FpJsfS— Celtics on NBC Sports Boston (@NBCSCeltics) November 9, 2019
His injury is without question a setback for the Celtics who came into Saturday’s game with a 6-1 record and sitting atop the Eastern Conference standings.
Because of his impact on several fronts, Hayward’s injury - likely to keep him out a few weeks - doesn’t hurt the Celtics any more in one statistical category than another.
But it does deal a blow to the balanced, elite-level play on several fronts that Hayward has been bringing to the table this season, a season in which he has looked to be a better player than he was when the Celtics signed him in 2017.
A key to Boston’s fast start is the above-average contributions they have gotten from a number of players.
But of the players on the Celtics roster, Hayward has easily been the biggest surprise of them all.
The fact that he’s contributing in so many categories isn’t all that surprising.
But he has been able to do it while still meshing well with teammates Jayson Tatum and Kemba Walker who were both expected to shoulder a considerably larger amount of the load than Hayward.
Hayward is by all accounts Boston’s No. 3 option behind Walker and Tatum.
And yet he’s delivering face-of-the-franchise production when you look at his scoring (20.3 points per game) in addition to delivering 7.9 rebounds and 4.6 assists while connecting on 56.4 percent of his shots from the field and 44.4 percent of his 3-point attempts.
Replacing that kind of production won’t be easy, particularly when it comes within the flow of the offense and not necessarily from a ton of plays being called for him.
His absence will put a greater burden of producing on the shoulders of Walker and Tatum, in addition to increasing the need for Marcus Smart to step up and impact the game more along the lines of a two-way player rather than a defensive stopper who gets a few points here and there.
But as we’ve seen already this season, the Celtics are a team whose strength lies more in their collective sum than any individual parts.
That will be put to the test for however long they will be without Hayward, providing yet another challenge for a Celtics team that thus far this season, has shown the ability to meet time and time again.
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