A season can change at any minute. I don’t think anyone was expecting it in the first six minutes of the NBA regular season opener, however.

About halfway through the first quarter of the Cleveland Cavaliers matchup with the visiting Boston Celtics, star forward Gordon Hayward broke his leg. It was so bad that the announcers were able to diagnose him within seconds.

“Oh my goodness, Hayward came down so hard,” said Kevin Harlan during the TNT broadcast. “Hayward broke his leg. Hayward has broken his leg. Hayward has broken his leg.”

Then silence.

“Oh my gosh. Oh my gosh. And this is how quickly a season can change,” said Reggie Miller during the same broadcast. “This is unbelievable. I mean…”

Then more silence.

Head coach Brad Stevens confirmed after the game that Hayward dislocated his ankle and fractured his tibia.

boston celtics gordon hayward reacts to ankle break

Just like that, the Celtics lost their $127 million man. Hayward was supposed to be the guy that, along with Kyrie Irving, would launch the Celtics into championship contention (or, at least Eastern Conference Championship contention). With these pieces in place, maybe they would have enough to challenge the Cavs for dominance in the East.

Now, more importantly, Hayward will be fortunate to play another game in the NBA. It will be a long and grueling process to recover from an injury like that—just ask Oklahoma City Thunder star Paul George about recovering from his injury in the Team USA scrimmage a few years back.

Without Hayward, the Celtics didn’t look overpowered. They came within three points of the Cavs as Kyrie’s buzzer-beater rattled out, but that was only after the Cavaliers got complacent on an 18-point third quarter lead.

gordon hayward leg break during boston celtics debut nba

So, overall, it was close, but the question now is how will they do with one of their best players missing down the stretch? They can’t rely on Jaylen Brown to put up 25 points every night, and they will certainly need more from guys like Marcus Smart, who shot 5-of-16 in the loss.

Kyrie did well, but we can’t be sure how much of that was his truly fitting into the system versus the energy of playing in front of a newly-hostile crowd in Cleveland. And now, with Hayward out, Kyrie Irving becomes twice as important to this Celtics team in desperate need of a clear on-court leader.

While Tuesday’s game wasn’t a complete disaster (excluding the injury, of course), the Celtics will need to work twice as hard with Hayward sidelined for most likely the year.

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