Six minutes into Gordon Hayward’s career as a Boston Celtic, he went to catch a lob in traffic and landed awkwardly. The result horrified both fans and players alike and with some justification. The dislocated ankle and fractured tibia diagnosis doesn’t seem to rationalize the gruesome images depicting Hayward’s foot at an angle it shouldn’t be at.
It was a sombre way to start the season. On what should be the most jubilant of days on the NBA calendar, tragedy ruled.
Yet straight away there was the positive reminder of the intense fraternity that is the NBA brotherhood. Just a few hours earlier, reports surfaced that Bobby Portis had put his own teammate Nikola Mirotic in the hospital putting the strength of those bonds into question. The outpouring of support Hayward’s colleagues showed after the injury, however, was a timely and reassuring demonstration of the close knit nature of the modern NBA.
No support was greater than that of LeBron James. The King finished with 29 points 16 boards and 9 assists, yet his biggest play of the game was when he went down to check on Hayward in the rooms shortly after he was stretchered off. In the middle of battle, the best solider in the world went to check in on the health and well-being of an enemy. That’s the epitome of the bonds of NBA brotherhood.
Those of us who sit back and watch the game from afar analyse every player; an in-depth examination of a player’s strengths, weaknesses, where a player can exploit opposition and where in turn, the opposition can exploit a player. It tricks us into viewing professional ball players as almost robotic; a synthetic being devoid of pain, both physical and mental.
Hayward’s injury reminds us of the folly of that mentality. It reaffirms that NBA players aren’t some movable pawn that exist solely for our enjoyment. They are people, who just like us are capable of having tragedy inflicted upon them.
For the Celtics, it’s a debilitating blow. An All-Star and a leader, lost likely for the season on a squad that is already shallow. It could however, provide a shining light for the development of young studs, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Marcus Smart. Even with an uninjured Hayward, those three players are key cogs to any Celtics playoff success. Now all three will likely see more minutes, and a more prominent role. In game one – if that’s an acceptable yardstick to measure – the three combined had 51 Field Goal attempts, and all played over 35 minutes. The result of a sans-Hayward season could be an acceleration of the maturing process for this trio, which could pay ultimate dividends upon Hayward’s return.
In Game 1, Tatum got the start at Power Forward (in the absence of Marcus Morris), Brown started at Shooting Guard and Smart was the first man off the bench. In Game 2, Smart was inserted at Shooting Guard, Brown shifted to the Small Forward spot vacated by Hayward and Tatum maintained his role as a temporary four-man.
Their production in their second showing wasn’t as grand as their first, in part due to foul trouble. Still, in major minutes Tatum (36 minutes), Smart (32 minutes) and Brown (28 minutes, fouling out) combined for 38 of Boston’s 100 points.
Without Morris, it’s hard to understand the required adjustment the Celtics will have to make without Hayward. But with a bench that has only provided one double-digit scorer in two games (Smart in Game 1 and Terry Rozier in Game 2), the majority of the slack will have to be taken up by the Tatum-Brown-Smart trio. Kyrie Irving too will be asked to do more, playing 38.5 minutes over the course of the first two games.
The collective positives that can be garnered from Hayward’s injury however, do not come close to offsetting the tragedy of Hayward’s immediate reality.
All we can do is join the chorus of others wishing him nothing but the best, and for a speedy recovery.