Gordon Hayward’s gruesome ankle break overshadows Cavs win over Celtics in NBA opener
Hayward wheeled off on stretcher after suffering horrifying injury just minutes into his Celtics debut as LeBron’s Cleveland rally for 102-99 victory
Gordon Hayward’s face was etched in pain and shock.
Of all the juicy subplots for this hyped homecoming and a season opener between heated rivals, a serious injury to Hayward wasn’t on the list.
Boston’s season changed in a gruesome instant. Hayward, one of the new Celtics who was going to help them close the gap on Cleveland, broke his left ankle just five minutes into his debut, and Boston were beaten 102-99 by LeBron James and the Cavaliers.
Hayward’s horrific injury overshadowed Kyrie Irving’s return to Cleveland and re-directed Boston’s immediate future and potential.
After the 27-year-old was wheeled from Quicken Loans Arena on a stretcher, offering a thumbs-up on his way to the ambulance, the Celtics rallied but came up short.
The outcome, though, hardly mattered.
“You hurt for him,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said of Hayward, his former star at Butler. “It’s a tough, tough deal, but I guess that’s part of the risk of injury. I really feel for him.”
James scored 29 points – 13 in the fourth quarter – in his most extensive action in three weeks because of a sprained left ankle. The superstar also fed Kevin Love for a critical three-pointer with 46.3 seconds left to put the Cavs up 102-98.
Irving, who asked to be traded this summer after six seasons in Cleveland, had a chance to tie it with a three-pointer at the horn but his shot was short.
As the crowd exhaled, Irving shared a warm handshake and embrace with James, his teammate for three seasons and the one he wanted to get away from by demanding a trade this summer.
Jaylen Brown scored 25 and Irving 22 and 10 assists for the Celtics, who overcame an 18-point deficit in the third and led with 2:04 left.
Hayward, who signed a four-year, US$128 million free agent contract with the Celtics this summer, was bumped by James while trying to catch an alley-oop pass with 6:45 left in the first quarter.
The forward’s leg got twisted underneath him as he came back to the floor and snapped his ankle grotesquely, his foot pointing awkwardly to one side.
The 27-year-old sat up, looked at his foot and yelled while some players covered their mouths and others turned their heads.
Hayward’s injury changed the tenor of the highly anticipated match-up, and will alter the direction of Boston’s season.
He will require surgery and need months to recover. Stevens said Hayward will be taken directly to the hospital in Boston once the Celtics’ plane lands.
After the final horn, James and Irving, who spent part of the summer making subtle jabs at each other following the blockbuster trade, completed their signature handshake and the All-Star point guard greeted several former teammates.
He may still have a ways to go with Cleveland’s crowd, which booed him every time he touched the ball.
Irving heard it from the moment he took the floor as Cleveland fans got their first chance to voice their displeasure toward him for demanding to be traded this summer despite three consecutive trips to the NBA Finals and one title.
“It’s a really hard game for a guy to play, especially the first game of the season with all the emotion you have to go through,” Stevens said. “How he can play at that level is beyond me.”
Hayward’s injury took some of the bite out of Cleveland’s crowd, which gave the forward a roaring ovation as he was taken off the floor on a stretcher.
When Hayward went down, Boston’s players huddled in prayer near their bench as a distressed James took a seat on the scorer’s table in disbelief.
“I don’t have any magic words for that,” he said. “We’re all feeling for him. I’m not going to try to take the human element out of it.”