Celtics’ young core steps up after Hayward’s injury: After gruesome injury, Celtics’ young players show promise despite loss

By Evin Hartsock, Managing Editor

     After Celtics’ forward Gordon Hayward broke his leg in one of the more gruesome injuries in NBA history during the opening minutes of the season opener against the Cavaliers on Tuesday, many had all but closed the door on the rest of Boston’s year by halftime. The Celtics had put a lot of faith in Hayward when they went after him in free agency last summer, signing him to a four-year deal worth $128 million and trading starting guard Avery Bradley to clear cap space for him.

     The expectation of Hayward’s role on the team increased greatly when the Celtics made a move late in the offseason to swap all-star guards with Cleveland, sending Isiah Thomas to the Cavs for Kyrie Irving. The trade also included former Celtics’ forward Jae Crowder who provided valuable minutes for the team. With the trio of Irving, center Al Horford and Hayward, the Celtics felt as though they had put together a team that could contend with the Cavs in the East and make a run at a title. After Hayward’s injury, it seemed that all of that was out the window. However, that might not necessarily be the case.

     The Celtics proved that despite losing one of their best players that they could still be competitive as their young core stepped up to fill the gap, losing to the Cavs by just three points in a 102-99 final.

     Jaylen Brown, the Celtics’ second-year forward out of the University of California, proved that he can help Boston stay competitive in Hayward’s absence. The 20-year-old scored a career-high 25 points on 47 percent shooting and grabbed six rebounds as well. The former first-round pick was aggressive all night, keeping the Cavs on their heels and leaking out to score quick buckets in transition. One of his most impressive plays was a powerful dunk over LeBron James in the first quarter.

     Defensively Brown did his best to stop James, which is no easy task, taking every opportunity he got to challenge him and continuously went at his chest. He was able to draw a charge from James, which led to a 21-6 run by the Celtics.

     This is who the Celtics expected Brown to be when they drafted him at number three overall two years ago, and he’ll need to keep it up if the Celtics are to have some success this season.

     Another young Celtic who stepped up against the Cavs was third-year guard Marcus Smart. Smart stuffed the stat sheet with 12 points, nine rebounds, three assists, two blocks, and two steals. Smart provided the Celtics with an offensive spark late in the game that contributed to their 21-6 run and showed why he is arguably the team’s best on-ball defender as he guarded multiple Cavs’ players well.

     Rookie forward Jayson Tatum carried over his impressive play from the summer league into the season opener, proving that he is NBA ready and can give the Celtics valuable minutes as well. Tatum recorded a double-double in his debut, scoring 14 points, posting 10 rebounds, and dishing three assists as well. The rookie from Duke will have a large opportunity with Hayward’s absence to make an impact early and solidify himself as a threat in Boston for years to come.

     Perhaps the best thing the Celtics have going for them after Hayward’s injury is that they have a former NBA champion in Kyrie Irving running the point. Irving brings a leadership and experience to a young team that can help develop the budding talent that the Celtics possess. Irving was his same old Cleveland-self against his former team as he scored 22 points, recorded 10 assists, grabbed 4 rebounds and knocked down four of his nine three-point attempts.

     While Hayward’s injury is a huge blow to the Celtics’ season and should not be taken lightly, Boston showed in their impressive performance against the Cavs afterwards that they still have what it takes to contend in the East. The Celtics are young, even the two starts they acquired in the offseason in Irving and Hayward are young. While they still have a chance to go far in the playoffs this year, they have been building for the future and their young core reflects that. Even if it does not happen this year, watch out for Boston to make big things happen in the not-so-distant future.