After a short and very active NBA offseason there was plenty of hype built around this season. With highly touted rookies entering the NBA as well as a multitude of All-Star caliber players switching teams through free agency and trades, there was so much to look forward to.
On opening day the season was kicking off with newfound Celtics All-Stars Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving facing off Irving’s old team the Cavaliers… in Cleveland. There was more hype built around Irving’s return to Cleveland but thinking about the potential top two teams in the East facing off on day one was enough to sell fans on the excitement this game would hold. It most definitely was exciting from pre-game warm ups all the way until there was 7 minutes left in the 1st quarter. Hayward leaped into the air and received accidental contact from both Lebron James and Jae Crowder and as he fell to the ground he landed awkwardly on his left ankle. It was not your normal injury as it led to such a gruesome injury that left stomachs turning and everyone watching (whether in the arena or at home) in shock.
“Hayward has broken his leg, Hayward has broken his leg.” stated TNT announcer Kevin Harlan repeatedly as it was happening. Hayward’s ankle had been completely dislocated and his tibia was fractured as well.
The injury caused the game to pause for several minutes as Hayward’s leg had to be stabilized before he could be carried off the court in a stretcher and while that was going on, the Celtics’ bench was huddled up and Kyrie was in the middle of it with his pressed onto teammates Marcus Smart and Jason Tatum’s chests as he potentially thought about regret of throwing that pass. Hayward was soon brought into the Cavs’ locker room as he received a standing ovation from the Cleveland crowd. Play then resumed but the entire atmosphere of the game was completely different. Everyone’s emotions took a turn for the worse due to the complexity of focusing on the game after witnessing such a frightful injury to one of the league’s best players. Quicken Loans was quiet through most of the game even after highlight plays made by either team and it illustrated the new tone for the rest of opening night.
The Celtics were winning by 3 at the time of Hayward’s injury but they soon fell into a 16 point hole against the Cavs going into half-time. During the break, Coach Stevens tried to calm his players from the aftermath of their teammates’ injury. The Celtics came back in the 3rd quarter and rallied to a one point deficit heading into the 4th quarter. Both teams stayed neck-and-neck throughout the entire 4th quarter but ultimately, Lebron’s heroics towards the end of the game decided the game in the Cavs’ favor. Kyrie took the final shot of the game in attempt to bring it to overtime although his shot fell short with Lebron’s hand in his face.
The opening day of the NBA season, Kyrie’s return to Cleveland, Chris Paul’s debut in a Houston Rockets’ jersey, the Warriors’ championship ceremony, or even Hayward’s debut as a Celtic all no longer held the same meaning. Hayward’s injury was felt across the league as players from other teams tweeted about it showing their compassion and offered their thoughts and prayers for a healthy recovery. One that stood out, was a simple tweet of a hashtag that read “#PrayforGordonHayward” by a player who knows exactly what the Celtics forward is going through, Paul George.
Paul George also endured a grisly injury when he broke his leg in August of 2014 during a USA exhibition game in Las Vegas. George was able to recover and get back on the court from his injury within 8 months. Hayward and George did not have the exact same injury as each other as George’s injury consisted of a broken tibia as well as a broken fibula but if Hayward’s injury needs 8 months or so to heal itself, count him out for the remainder of the season and leave the hope for him returning during the playoffs out the door as well. It’s such an unfortunate event and injury that athletes have nightmares of experiencing. Hopefully Hayward comes back stronger and better than ever.