It’s a little over 5 minutes into a brand new NBA season, and the Boston Celtics are taking on the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena on opening night in a rematch of last season’s eastern conference finals, in which Cleveland decisively won in five games. All eyes are on a Boston team that only returns four players from last year’s team, and fans finally get to see new stars Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward in regular season action.
Celtics fans are filled with optimism, between the huge offseason acquisitions and another successful draft. Then all of that optimism is dashed, and devastation ensues with one play. Irving lobs at alley oop to Hayward that he can’t come up with, Hayward makes contact with Cleveland forwards LeBron James and Jae Crowder in the air, and on the fall his left leg lands in an awkward fashion.
Everyone in the arena knew something was off when Hayward remained seated on the floor and tried to scoot toward the sideline away from the action on the court. It quickly became clear that Hayward’s foot was bent completely sideways, and everyone at home watching was informed of the horrid injury with commentator Kevin Harlan’s call “Hayward has broken his leg” in the most chilling tone, during the broadcast on TNT.
Praying for my guy @gordonhayward!!! NEVER want to see any of the guys go through anything like that.
— DeAndre Jordan (@DeAndre) October 18, 2017
Just like that, one of the Celtics stars, and one of the biggest free agent signings for Boston in recent memory, looked as if he would be out for the entire year just minutes into the season. Head coach Brad Stevens and the Celtics were then challenged to rally around the devastating injury and respond as a group. It would’ve been easy to fold following the injury, but resolve and the next man up mentality exists in that locker room, and this team would answer the call.
The Celtics would lose the night of Hayward’s injury to Cleveland, then lose again the following night in their home opener against an up and coming Milwaukee Bucks team. From that point on, they rattled off sixteen straight wins, three shy of the Celtics regular season win streak record which belonged to the 2009 Boston team led by Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and Rajon Rondo.
A collective effort to lock down on the defensive end highlighted the Celtics win streak. This NBA season the Celtics have the number defense in the league, holding teams to an average of around 95 points per game. In the most impressive victory of the win streak, the Celtics held the defending NBA champions, the Golden State Warriors, to 88 points, and superstar point guard Stephen Curry to just 9 points.
On the offensive side, point guard Kyrie Irving has averaged 22.5 points per game, using his incredible ball handling and finishing ability to be productive on the offensive end for the Celtics. In addition, forward Al Horford has been a big offensive presence, averaging roughly nine points and nine rebounds per game, shooting at an efficient rate while doing so.
The biggest surprise during the Celtics winning stretch was the two young stars, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. Both players were the third overall pick of the last two drafts, and have been outstanding on both ends of the floor for Boston. Brown is a serious candidate for Most Improved Player of the Year, taking his offensive game to new heights, averaging 16 points a game, and using his length and athleticism to disrupt opposing offenses with an ability to create turnovers defensively.
Meanwhile for the rookie Tatum, he’s third on the team in scoring behind Brown and Irving, at 14.2 points per game. He also has a serious presence on defense, as he leads the Celtics in blocks. Brown and Tatum are beneficiary’s of Hayward’s injury in one sense, as the two collectively replace the minutes he would be playing. Getting those guys who are only 19 and 21 years of age starting minutes now is critical, as the two are the future of the Celtics franchise.
On opening night all NBA writers and analysts counted the Celtics out for this NBA season following Hayward going down. The Celtics responded with an incredible amount of resiliency and grit, and went 36 days without losing a game as a result. Although the NBA season is still very young, Celtics fans should be extremely encouraged by the improbable run their team just pulled off.