In a night filled with anticipation and excitement, a 102-99 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers seemed insignificant to the Boston Celtics. The image of Gordon Hayward laying on the ground and pointing at his left ankle in shock will stick in the minds of fans across the NBA. According to many media outlets, Hayward suffered a fractured left ankle and has been flown back to Boston to undergo surgery. A timetable for his return has not been specified. It seems trivial to talk about what the team does going forward in the face of such a devastating injury, but the season moves on. The Celtics have to regroup and move forward without Hayward.
WHO STEPS UP FOR THE CELTICS?
The Celtics were understandably shocked after the Hayward injury. Players were forcing things in an attempt to pick the team up for the remainder of the first half. As the game move on and emotions settled, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, and Jayson Tatum stepped up. With Hayward out for the foreseeable future, the youngsters are going to have to carry this team. Even before the Hayward injury, Brown was attacking the basket without inhibition. He was a key piece in bringing the Celtics back from an 18-point deficit in the third quarter. After looking completely hapless in the first half, Smart turned up the intensity and scored all of his 12 points in the third quarter.
The success of the Celtics in Hayward’s absence will fall on these three players. Tatum will not have a chance to grow and mature in a smaller role. He is going to get more minutes and be expected to contribute. Tatum finished the game with 14 points and 10 rebounds, and showed more poise as the game went on. While the Hayward injury is devastating, it will give Brown, Tatum, and Smart even more minutes to develop.
IT REALLY IS KYRIE’S TEAM NOW
There have always been questions about Kyrie’s leadership. The coming months will, hopefully, answer those questions. The Celtics are his team now, and he will have to lead them. After a sluggish start in an emotionally charged game, Kyrie showed what he is capable of in the fourth quarter. He knocked down three shots from beyond the arch to keep the C’s close. Kyrie finished with 22 points and 10 assists, and yet he will need to do more. There will be a balancing act that Kyrie has to conquer. Yes, this team will need exceptional numbers from him, but most importantly, he can’t force things. Kyrie needs to get people involved and in addition be the assassin that we know him to be.
WHAT WILL THE CELTICS LOOK LIKE NEXT MONTH
Because the details of Hayward’s injury are still up in the air, the Celtics must reformulate their plan going forward. Three-point shooting on the wing will need to be better. Brown and Tatum combined to go 3-11 from behind the three-point line. Marcus Morris will certainly help when he returns, but the kids will have to step up. Stevens should stick with the youth movement in Hayward’s absence. Kyrie, Brown, Morris, Tatum, and Al Horford will give the Celtics the best chance to win. Smart, Terry Rozier, and Aron Baynes will captain the second unit. Everyone will need to step up in the coming months. Kyrie, Brown, and Horford will carry the load, but each player will need to contribute.
Our thoughts and prays are with Hayward for a speedy recovery. I will leave you with a bit of optimism:
— NBC Sports Boston (@NBCSBoston) October 18, 2017