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Patrick Bell

Patrick Bell

Patrick Bell

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All in one moment, I felt shocked, hopeless, sad, fearful and disgusted.

This was when the Boston Celtics’ highly-prized free agent Gordon Hayward fractured his ankle going up for an alley-oop against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first quarter of the opening game of the season. It was a freak injury, to say the least, and something I hope to never see again.

I was excited going into this season. The Boston Celtics have been going through a better-than-expected rebuilding process since 2013 where they gave a final farewell to the big three era by trading away Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce for multiple first-round draft picks down the road. Since that trade, they have exceeded expectations each year since, and have been slowly climbing the ladder to the top of elite teams in the NBA.

The first game of the season was supposed to be the beginning of a new era of Celtics basketball with a roster built to compete with every single team in the NBA. The first game of the season was a great chance to prove that. It was a rematch of the Eastern Conference Finals, their opponent being the Cleveland Cavaliers, a team led by Lebron James, that demolished and humiliated the Celtics in five games before moving on to the finals.

It was so bad that at one point, during halftime, former NBA players and NBA TNT analysts Kenny “The Jet” Smith and Charles Barkley were playing the popular card game “Go Fish” on live TV instead of breaking down the first half of game two in which the Celtics were down 40 points in the first half, and ended up losing the game 130 to 86.

Opening night was a chance to get some revenge and to prove to Cleveland and the rest of the NBA that the Celtics were a title contender. And for the first five minutes, it was a close, exciting game with both teams fighting for a win that was up for grabs. Everything felt right for those first five minutes. Until the 6:49 mark of the first quarter when Hayward went down.

At first glance, it didn’t seem like anything went horribly wrong. Hayward collided with two Cavs players, falling to the floor, along with the ball, which Celtics player Jaylen Brown picked up next to Hayward and dunked it in the basket, which helped assure me that everything was okay.

Then, all of a sudden, I heard the call from TNT basketball analyst Kevin Harlan where he repeats the line “Hayward broke his leg” multiple times, showing shock and fear in his voice as he tried to keep his composure. I saw the reaction of the fans and the Cavaliers bench, looking away in disgust. At that moment, the game, the season, didn’t really matter anymore.

It’s been weeks since the horrific injury. Each Celtics game I watch, there is a gaping hole feeling that I get that something is missing. He’s expected to make a full recovery and is planning to return next season, absolutely great news there, but the burning question that Celtics fans have been asking is how do we proceed?

Let’s start with Kyrie Irving. The newly acquired point guard has performed well, but there is still room for improvement. Through seven games, he’s averaging 21.7 points, 5.7 assists and 3.7 rebounds per game. That’s a good stat line, but behind the 21.7 points is that his shooting has been below his career average, specifically with his three-point and free throw shooting. There is reason to be concerned, but I would expect him to rebound as he becomes more comfortable within the system.

One of the smartest basketball players I’ve ever seen is Al Horford. In his second season with the Celtics, he has taken command of the team by being the most consistent player and quietly producing every game, giving the Celtics the best chance to win every night. I believe he is the key for how they move forward as a team, and while he isn’t the most talented Celtic, his IQ, consistency and veteran leadership will be the catalyst for this team going forward.

Am I hopeful for this team going forward? Absolutely. It still really kills me to watch a Celtics game and not see number 20 — Gordon Hayward’s number — out there, but there is enough talent and depth on this team to be a top seed in the eastern conference and make it all the way to the eastern conference finals. I don’t think banner 18 will be making its way up to the Boston Garden rafters this season, but when Hayward returns next year, watch out, the possibilities are endless. Get well soon, Hayward, and work hard to return better than ever.

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