Hayward’s injury haunts NBA Opening Night

Let’s just get it out of the way: the Gordon Hayward injury that happened early in the Cavs-Celtics NBA opening game was horrific. I’m not going to show how it happened because those who have not seen it probably don’t want to see it at this point, and those who have probably regret it. When Hayward fell to the ground there was an audible crack that I will probably never be able to unhear. Kevin Harlan, who was calling the game for TNT, was beside himself, screaming that Hayward had broken his leg. It turns out that Hayward has a dislocated ankle and a fractured tibia. Players from both teams were visibly shaken, some of them were in tears. In was one of the more awful things I’ve ever seen in an NBA game. I was amazed that the game even continued.

It’s not at all what I was hoping for from the start of the NBA season, but the guys on the court are professionals, and the game went on, with Cleveland winning 102–99. The Celtics went down by 18 early but came back on the strength (literally) of Marcus Smart, who was a one-man wrecking crew, bulldozing Kyle Korver to the basket on three straight possessions in the second half.

With Hayward sidelined, Jaylen Brown and Jason Tatum both got a lot of playing time. Both first-round picks got off to a rocky start, but Brown hit a couple of big threes to keep the Celtics in the game and finished the night with 25 points and six rebounds. Tatum took some lumps, getting his first shot in the NBA rejected by LeBron James (of course there are worse ways to start your career), but as the game progressed Tatum settled down and ended up with a 14 point, 10 rebound, double-double. With Hayward out for the season, the success of this young Celtics team now rests on the quick development of Brown and Tatum.

The narrative going into the game centered around Kyrie Irving, who asked for a trade away from the Cavs just a few months prior to the start of the season. Kyrie got his fair share of boos to begin the game, but the animosity faded after the Hayward injury.

Once again it was LeBron James leading the way for the Cavaliers, he scored 29 points on a hyper-efficient 12-of-19 shooting, while just missing a triple-double with 16 rebounds and nine assists. I’m not sure what’s left to be said about LeBron James at this point. He’s a national treasure, and we should all be appreciating his performances like they are works of Picasso, we’ll call this era his burgundy period.

Major injuries like the one Gordon Hayward suffered tonight are devastating. I can’t imagine what it’s like to move to a new city, with hopes of competing for a title and have your life turned upside down like that. It’s the nature of professional sports that we are already wondering how the Celtics will recover as an organization from the injury, and soon the spotlight will be moving away from Hayward completely and he will be left to recover in relative obscurity. Here’s hoping that recovery is a quick one.

The late game was a much lighter affair with Golden State getting their rings before the game, a game they would lose to the Rockets 122–121. Kevin Durant drained a shot in the final moments that would have given Golden State the lead, but after review, the shot was waved off, as his fingertips were still on the ball as the clock struck triple zeroes.

This was a sloppy game. The two teams combined for 29 turnovers. Chris Paul never found his rhythm in the game, scoring just four points on 2–9 shooting. He was in foul trouble early and often and looked like he was walking with a limp for much of the game. If you went into this season thinking that Paul was not a great fit for the Rockets, this game did not do much to change your mind. The Rocket’s offense would often stagnate when Paul was at the controls, and when Houston made their run late it was with CP3 on the bench.

Speaking of benches, it was a couple of the Rocket’s new bench players Luc Mbah a Moute and PJ Tucker, along with last year’s Six Man of the Year award winner Eric Gordon who carried the team down the stretch. The three reserves, who were the only Houston players to come off the bench tonight, combined for 58 points.

The Warriors got some bad news on the injury front with Draymond Green leaving the game with a left knee sprain. With no Draymond or Andre Iguodala in the lineup, their defense looked porous at times against the Rockets. The offense had moments of brilliance. Klay Thompson started the game off hot, hitting a deluge of long balls, but, as can happen with Klay, he kind of got lost in the shuffle. Young must have felt left-out at the ring ceremony, because he came off the bench and dropped 20 points in the first half, hitting his first four threes and ending up with 23 points, but somehow he had the team’s worst +/- number with a -10 on the night.

The Warriors just seemed a little off on both their offensive and defensive rotations. Head Coach Steve Kerr made it a point to get his entire bench into the game early (except for poor JaVale McGee), and I think that mishmash of lineups had something to do with all the turnovers and blown defensive assignments. I’m sure once the exhilaration of getting their rings wears off, and Kerr locks in on the team’s roster rotations, Golden State will be right back to their dominating ways.

It was a bit of a somber opening night, but the fact that both games were close down the stretch did a little to make up for its awful start. Tomorrow night there is a full slate of games, with Boston having to play Milwaukee on the second night of a back-to-back. It will be interesting to see how the team responds. It would not surprise me if they came out a little bit flat after showing so much heart against the Cavaliers tonight.

Gordon Hayward is probably lying in a Boston hospital bed trying to figure out what the hell happened, and what the are first steps to recovery. He’s about to start the long journey to get back into the league he loves. He’ll be in my thoughts as we get this long journey that is the regular season started. Let’s hope opening day plus one is memorable for other reasons.

Part time basketball writer, full time NBA Junkie Email: giosjustin@gmail.com, tweet @justinjacobs