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. 

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Celtics hope to avoid usual road struggles at Toronto

Celtics hope to avoid usual road struggles at Toronto

Watch tonight's Celtics-Raptors game on NBC Sports Boston, or stream the game here.

BOSTON – There’s an edge that most NBA teams have when they play at home.

But that edge seems to cut sharper than most when you’re talking about the Toronto Raptors playing in front of their home fans.

And no team knows this better than the Celtics.

While Boston has steadily improved with each season since Brad Stevens came aboard in 2013, that success hasn’t translated well when it comes to playing the Raptors on their home floor.

In fact, the Celtics come into tonight having lost 10 of their past 11 games against Toronto as the road team.

“Does anybody have a good record in here?” said Celtics coach Brad Stevens. “It’s a hard place to play. We go to a lot of great places with a lot of great fans that are on top of you, that are active. And then you add in great talent. It’s a hard place to play because they are a really good team. They make it hard. They are great here.”

Last season, Toronto tied the Houston Rockets for the best home record (34-7) in the NBA.

Dating to the 2013-14 season, the Raptors have finished no worst than a tie for 12th in the NBA for best record at home, with a home win total of at least 26 (out of 41) per season in that span.

And the one victory Stevens has enjoyed in the Scotia Bank Arena (formerly the Air Canada Centre), was an overtime thriller that ended with the winning basket being scored by Marcus Smart on a play in which ex-Celtic Isaiah Thomas got the assist even though it did look as though Thomas might have lost the ball and it found its way into the hands of an open Smart for the game-winning basket at the buzzer.

Here are some other news and nuggets looking ahead to tonight’s game:

Celtics defense: They came into the season as the league’s best from a year ago, and did not disappoint in the opener against Philadelphia. Boston’s defensive rating for the game was 82.1, a number Boston only beat just once all of last season.

Jayson Tatum: He comes into tonight’s game having tallied a near double-double of 23 points and nine rebounds in the opener. Don’t expect him to put up similar or better numbers. Only once all of last season did Tatum score that many points and grab that many rebounds in one night.

Toronto’s defense on the Celtics: The Raptors defend at a fairly high level, but found another gear to shift into last season when they played Boston. Toronto’s defensive rating for the season was 105.1 which ranked fifth in the NBA. But against Boston, that number dipped to strong 98.7.

Kyle Lowry: It’s amazing how far Lowry has come when you’re talking about his 3-point shooting. He comes into tonight’s game having made five of his six 3-point attempts in their win over Cleveland earlier this week. Lowry comes into the season having netted the top-two seasons in franchise history in 3-pointers made, with the record-setting total being 238 which he established last season.

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Celtics face stiff road test tonight against Raptors

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Celtics face stiff road test tonight against Raptors

Watch tonight's Celtics-Raptors game on NBC Sports Boston, or stream the game here.

TORONTO – Of the contenders in the Eastern Conference besides Boston, there is no bigger wild card than the Toronto Raptors.

They could be just one of the eight teams in the East playing in the postseason, or they could finish with the best record in the conference for the second year in a row and do what no Toronto Raptors team has ever done and that’s get to the NBA Finals.

That’s a wide range of possibilities for sure.

But it speaks volumes as to what this season is about for the Raptors.

And it can be summed up in two words: Kawhi Leonard.

The two-time All-Star demanded a trade from San Antonio and got his wish although few outside the Raptors organization envisioned Leonard winding up in Toronto.

And while the sample size is about as small as it gets (one game), early indications are that Leonard’s acclamation to his new team and a new city has gone relatively smooth thus far.

He led the Raptors with a double-double of 24 points and 12 rebounds in their 116-104 win against Cleveland.

Danny Green has been a teammate of Leonard’s since 2011 – first in San Antonio and now this season in Toronto.

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Knowing all too well about the long layoff for Leonard, Green has been pleasantly surprised at how quickly Leonard has picked up where he left off prior to a quads injury that limited him to just nine games last season in San Antonio.

“He’s farther along than I expected him to be,” Green said. “I still know he’s not himself. It’s going to take him at least a month to be his old self and get into a rhythm. You might see spurts sooner than that.”

While the injuries are different, the Boston Celtics have a couple of elite players on a similar track in terms of re-acclimating themselves to playing after missing significant time last season.

Kyrie Irving (knee infection) and Gordon Hayward (left ankle/leg) were out during Boston’s entire postseason run last season.

Although Boston easily defeated Philadelphia 105-87 in the opener earlier this week, neither player had a great game.

Irving finished with seven points on 2-for-14 shooting which ranks among the worst shooting games of his career.

“Kyrie’s never going to have a game like that, probably,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “And that’s – you know, everybody’s been talking about Gordon being gone for twelve months, but Kyrie’s been out for six. And I had no intention of really restricting him minutes-wise, but it’s probably not all bad to play 29 in that first one and get your feet underneath you and get ready to go from here.”

Speaking of Hayward, he made his Celtics debut at the TD Garden on Tuesday and scored 10 points on 4-for-12 shooting to go with five rebounds and a career high-tying four steals.

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The 6-foot-8 forward missed all but five minutes of last season following a left ankle/leg injury in the opener at Cleveland.

He acknowledged after the game that there were some thoughts about his shortened first season in Boston a year ago.

“Yeah it definitely crossed my mind, especially warming up and running out through the tunnel,” Hayward said. “Just thought about maybe not doing any back door plays this game. It for sure went through my mind. It was a major part of my life at this point in time so I tried to just get that out of my head as soon as I started playing and once you’re out there on the court some of that disappears.”

With that, the focus returns to what really matters: winning games.

And one of Boston’s stiffest challengers in doing that this season, is the Toronto Raptors.

While all agree that it’s just one of the earlier challenges in an 82-game regular season schedule, the fact that it is an opponent within the division and it features two teams in the hunt for a trip to the NBA Finals, makes it a little more than just any old regular season tilt.

“It’s a game, it’s a tough game, it’s a great test, it’s a challenge,” said Toronto head coach Nick Nurse. “It is a little more important than playing a team from the West … we hope that we’re in this chase."

Nurse added, “Everybody up and down the league is in agreement that they’re the best team in the East, right?  Everybody keeps saying that, and they’re picked to go to the Finals and all that kind of stuff and we hope that we’re in that race with them.”

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