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Cavaliers 102, Celtics 99: Tough to care about loss after losing Gordon Hayward

Ty Anderson
October 17, 2017 - 11:00 pm

The Celtics hung around for all four quarters of a 102-99 loss to the Cavaliers, but they were really at Quicken Loans Arena for just five minutes and 15 seconds in the first half.

And you can’t blame them for mentally checking out earlier than one already does when stopping in Cleveland.

It was at that moment, with the Celtics holding a lead and finding their offensive groove, that Gordon Hayward, a player believed to be a focal point of the Celtic offense this year given his familiarity with head coach Brad Stevens dating back to their days at Butler, fell down, and with his ankle bent in a way that no body part should be bent.

Their expressions said it all.

As Hayward writhed in agony on the floor, Jaylen Brown’s hands were on his head. A wide-eyed Al Horford shook his head in disbelief and talked with some Cavaliers, as if he was looking for the exact answer as to what just happened, or that he simply didn't believe what he saw. Kyrie Irving, the player that attempted the lob pass on the play that injured Hayward, needed to be consoled.

Even Jae Crowder, who voiced his displeasure with Boston fans cheering Hayward when he visited TD Garden as a member of the Jazz last season and part of the five-piece package sent to Cleveland in exchange for Irving in August, couldn’t bear to watch what was transpiring and wandered off to the sideline with a grimace.

“It was definitely tough just seeing that happen," Jayson Tatum said. "It was tough on all of us. You never want to see anything like that happen to anybody, especially to one of your guys."

It played out to a ghost-sighting Celtic first half that saw them miss their first 10 three-point attempts and the Cavaliers by all means cruise to a 54-38 edge.

But as the Celtics regained color in their face and their heads stopped shaking, knowing that can’t change Hayward’s situation, their third quarter was their best.

With Irving on the bench, Marcus Smart, whose days of overindulgence are long over, evident by his 20-pound drop, feasted on the Cavs’ Kyle Korver, with 12 points in the quarter. And while the quarter would end with the Celtics holding a lead for all of three seconds thanks to a Derrick Rose buzzer-beating three, their comeback push came with the heart that Brad Stevens clearly did not lose in a summer of massive turnover.

The fourth featured more of the same, this time from the C’s promising tandem of Brown (a career-high 25 points in the loss) and first-year pro Tatum (14 points and 10 rebounds in 36 minutes), while Irving converted some key makes.

In the end, however, it was not enough to stop LeBron and the Cavs’ best.

In a game that was almost the C’s for the taking, I’d be lying if I said that the Celtics’ comeback efforts were not consistently met with a Crowder-like grimace. Every shot made was worth a cheer, but it always came with a realization that the 27-year-old Hayward’s fractured ankle still happened (a visual that I don’t think anybody’s going to forget), and that he was not coming back any time soon. It was tough to actually care about this game and think it had any meaning with the Celtics’ biggest addition on a stretcher.

In a game that already lacked buzz in the sense of this being a ‘true test’ thanks to the absence of Celtic-turned-Cavalier Isaiah Thomas, who is still recovering from his hip injury (and joined the injured Hayward in the locker room for support as a friend and one-time teammate), Hayward’s injury was a $128 million, championship-contending wet blanket.

It was a downright gross feeling.

It was like watching the Bruins try to beat the Flyers after Patrice Bergeron nearly broke his neck and got concussed into the next universe with a disgusting board in 2007. It was like watching the Patriots try to beat the Chiefs when Tom Brady tore his ACL in Week 1 in 2008. It was watching any Rob Gronkowski injury, but times 10.

Teams don’t recover from watching their teammate go down like this on the same night.

The Celtics came close, which earns them a pat on the back, which is the best you can do in a loss, but it doesn’t make you feel any better about their situation.

And it certainly won’t make Hayward’s recovery any easier.

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