by Max Anderson ’18
A nightmare scenario for Celtics fans became reality last Tuesday night when Gordon Hayward, the star free agent who signed for the Celtics over the summer, gruesomely dislocated his ankle and fractured his tibia in a 102-99 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The loss of Hayward is a substantial blow to a new-look Celtics team that was looking to finally dethrone the Lebron James-led Cavaliers atop the Eastern Conference. Before the season began, the Celtics’ odds of winning the Easter Conference were 9-4; after Hayward’s injury, the Celtics’ odds decreased to 11-4.
While the odds decrease may not look that bad for Celtics fans, you also must account for the fact that Hayward was likely going to be the man that could help contain James in the Celtics-Cavs matchups, as well as helping match his production. Without Hayward in the lineup, the task of stopping James becomes much tougher.
If there is any positive take away from this injury, and it is very hard to say there is any, it is that the Celtics will now get to see what they really have in prospects Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. Brown, who was the Celtics’ number three pick in last year’s draft, has already stepped up in a big way for the Celtics, and it can be argued he has been the most impressive player on the team thus far, with averages of 18.8 points per game, and 5.8 rebounds per game.
Tatum has also impressed so far, as he is nearly averaging a double-double thus far with averages of 12.3 PPG, and 7.8 RPG. The Celtics must like what they’ve seen out of both Brown and Tatum, and the two should continue to grow as the season goes on.
Perhaps the man who will be most impacted by Hayward’s injury is James’ former running mate Kyrie Irving. Irving, who played alongside James on all three of the Cavs teams that made the NBA Finals from 2015-17, demanded a trade this past summer.
While most were shocked by Irving’s request, Irving had apparently wanted to step out of James’ shadow for some time and lead a team on his own. There is no denying Irving’s skill, as well as his ability to perform in clutch situations (many believe his shot in the 2016 NBA Finals handed the Cavs their first title ever).
However, many question Irving’s leadership and perhaps rightly so; before James returned to Cleveland in 2014, Irving had never made a playoff appearance, let alone a Final’s appearance. The Celtics championship hopes took a blow with Hayward’s injury, but does not necessarily eliminate them from contention. The young talent on this team, as well as veteran leaders like Irving and big-man Al Horford, will be able to keep the Celtics in the thick of things come playoff time.
However, how far the Celtics can go may ultimately revolve around Irving’s production. Irving reportedly told those close to him upon his trade request that he believed he could lead a team. With Hayward’s injury, Irving will now get the opportunity to prove that statement.