By: Cristofer Zillo
Monday’s season opener against the Cavs was highlighted by Gordon Hayward’s heartbreakingly grim fracture. As he went down, time seemed to stop and players demonstrated their emotions through their shocked facial expressions. The first reaction, of course, was to wonder whether he was okay, the next was to question the severity of the injury, and the final was to analyze how exactly this injury will impact the rest of the season.
Obviously, it is disheartening to lose such a star player in the first 5 minutes of the season, as many people will now count the Celtics out of contention for a NBA Championship. Celtics fans, and Boston sports fans in general, innately believe that their team can win a title each year. However, it is almost impossible to dream of such a feat with the King still in Cleveland and a stacked Warriors team looming in the West. With four players returning, this season should be, in essence, a chance to improve chemistry and skillsets to better prepare for a deeper run in a year or so. With Hayward’s injury, this scenario is becoming reality.
The Celtics are good, but very young. Many of the guys coming off the bench, players like Guerschon Yabusele, Semi Ojeleye, Jabari Bird, and Kadeem Allen, are rookies. Championships, even deep playoff runs, are not achieved through raw rookie talent coming off the bench. Of course, with a team as star-studded as this one, hopes were high entering this season. However, Hayward’s injury will allow for more of these young players to receive more playing time, which would allow them to develop their games and foster a sense of comfort within the grueling NBA lifestyle. Players like Jayson Tatum, whose opening night double-double was the first by a Celtics rookie since Larry Bird, could now be a serious contender for Rookie of the Year. He, like the rest of the rookies and young players, will have to grow up fast, and with these increased minutes coming their way, there is no doubt that they will.
Without Hayward, Kyrie will now be forced to understand what it means to carry a team and be its go-to guy, not only in the clutch, but during every play of every game. Stepping out of the shadow of LeBron will be difficult for Kyrie. His shot at the end of the game would have forced overtime, but his hesitation into a pump-fake undermined his momentum causing an airball. He too, like the rest of the players on this team, needs to grow up. At 25 years old, he seems to be already wise beyond his years when he speaks, but he will need to hone in on his Mamba Mentality that he displayed in the Finals to carry the Celtics as far as they can go this season.
Looking towards the future, whether Hayward comes back at the end of this season, or at the beginning of the next, he will come back stronger and more motivated than ever before. The team that he will rejoin will be even better than this year’s, as the team will, as aforementioned, have a better chemistry and true identity. There is a possibility than more big-name superstars will join the roster. Ultimately, his return will mark the beginning of the team’s ability to truly chase the coveted 18th banner and the beginning of his Boston sports legacy.