CLEVELAND — Witnessing the gruesome nature of teammate Gordon Hayward‘s leg injury during the first quarter of Tuesday’s season opener, Boston Celtics guard Kyrie Irving immediately thought back to Paul George‘s injury during a 2014 Team USA scrimmage.
“It’s tough. I’ve seen a few injuries in my career and I’ve had a few,” Irving said. “Probably two of the worst ones I’ve been in the game watching — one was [George] at USA and this one tonight. It’s not a great sight to see, but you gotta pick yourself up. Just keep on fighting, man. We understand that [Hayward], God willing, will be fine, and we’re going to continue to pray for him and be there for him as best we can.”
“I’ve seen a couple of injuries like that in my lifetime,” James said. “I’ve seen Paul George when it happened to Paul. I was watching the game with Shaun Livingston when it happened when he was with the Clippers. I was watching NCAA basketball when Kevin Ware was at Louisville. Those are the injuries that you never seen coming and you never want to happen, no matter who it is, no matter what the stature, no matter how much competitive nature that you have. It’s just very unfortunate.”
The Celtics were clearly shellshocked in the immediate aftermath of Hayward’s injury, which required Boston’s forward to have his leg stabilized before he was stretchered off the court.
Boston players huddled in front of their bench before play resumed, and Irving buried his head in the chests of teammates Marcus Smart and Jayson Tatum. Rookie Semi Ojeleye led Celtics players in a prayer for Hayward, and players struggled to refocus on basketball.
Boston, up three at the time of Hayward’s injury, soon fell behind by 18. The Celtics rallied all the way back and led late in the fourth quarter, before James and Kevin Love made big plays to lift Cleveland to a 102-99 triumph at Quicken Loans Arena.
“At the end of the day, there’s still a game to be played. As s—ty as that sounds, but still a game to be played,” Irving said. “We understand that; we’re professionals. When one of our brothers goes down, we just picked the rest of our guys up and understand that we send our well-wishes to him and his family and we’ll see him on the plane. We’ll do what’s needed for him to get through the process of getting back healthy.”
As Irving added, “We know G is going to be fighting to get back on the court.”
Celtics coach Brad Stevens, who previously coached Hayward at Butler University, was clearly stung by the forward’s injury. It was Stevens who played a key role in enticing Hayward to sign a four-year, $ 128 million contract with Boston this summer.
“He’s put in a lot of great work. And I thought he had his most comfortable week as far as feeling like he was going to play really well,” Stevens said. “But now we’ll hopefully get a full recovery, right? And so it’s a tough deal, but I guess that’s part of it, the risk of injury. I really feel for him.”
Stevens knew his team was reeling after the injury but said it’s tough to turn the page on something like that.
“I don’t have any magic words for that,” Stevens said. “I mean, you’re all hurting for him. I’m not going to try to take the human element out of it.”
Even the Cavaliers were affected by the injury. Hayward’s ankle turned at a cringeworthy angle, directly in front of the Cleveland bench, and Cavaliers players reacted immediately to the sight.
“Even though he was from the opposing team, we’re still a fraternity and we’re still brothers,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said. “You never want to see anyone get injured or go down like that. I’m not sure of the severity of the injury, but I wish him well. He’s been a great player in this league, an All-Star and a great model citizen as far as the NBA is concerned. I just wish him well and hope he gets well.”
The Celtics didn’t truly look like they were re-engaged until the third quarter, when they rallied.
“It’s hard,” Boston center Al Horford said. “It’s hard to see one of your teammates go down in that way. I felt like it took us a little bit to get back going again. But we tried to stay together out there.”
Jaylen Brown offered his take.
“It’s tough,” said the Celtics forward. “Gordon is a leader of our team, and going into the season, we leaned on him a lot. Now we just have to come together even more and try to be a better team until he comes back. But it’s tough to see something like that. I hope he recovers as best as he can.”