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  • Six minutes into his debut for the Boston Celtics, Gordon Hayward suffered a dislocated left ankle and broken tibia, instantly casting a dark cloud on the NBA's Opening Night.
By Rohan Nadkarni
October 17, 2017

Much of the excitement for the NBA built up over an incredible summer was zapped less than six minutes into the first game of the season, as Gordon Hayward dislocated his ankle and fractured his tibia in one of the more gruesome injuries in recent memory. It was a shocking—and sickening—turn of events, as the Celtics’ best laid plans were ruined before the season’s first commercial break.

Hayward’s injury was a stark reminder of the fragility of...all of this. The NBA has been lucky that most of its best players have avoided major injuries. Steph Curry has overcome his ankle issues. Kevin Durant survived a foot scare. LeBron James has been a tank. Hayward’s injury was perfectly random, the one out of a billion happenstance on a play Hayward has likely run countless times in his life.

The injury took away what was supposed to be a revenge-filled opening game. The energy in the building and on the court was mostly gone after the injury. The Cavs just barely held on for the win, needing big plays from James down the stretch to escape with a 102–99 victory.

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The injury leaves the Celtics in an uncomfortable position. Do they forge ahead with the current roster, which could result in a lost season in a year the team was supposed to contend for a title? Do they make a big move, hoping to remain in contention and make sure Kyrie Irving wants to remain for the long haul? It’s unfortunate on a night Hayward suffered a traumatic injury that these questions have to be asked, but the NBA won’t allow the Celtics to sit idle.

If there was one silver lining from Tuesday, it was the way the Celtics competed down the stretch. Marcus Smart provided his usual spark. Jayson Tatum looked like he was ready for the moment. Jaylen Brown picked up Hayward’s scoring slack and contributed 25 points. Boston looked far from left for dead, and Irving almost provided a poetic end to regulation with a three over LeBron that fell short of the rim.

Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Still, Hayward’s injury casts a pall not only on what was meant to be an explosive opening night, but also a regular season that was already facing concerns about competitiveness in the Eastern Conference. Boston proved for at least one night it can compete with Cleveland, but the C’s outlook for the season remains cloudy at best.

The Cavs, by the way, looked like far from a finished product in Game 1. Dwyane Wade and Derrick Rose had moments both good and bad. Kyle Korver looked borderline unplayable. But James was his spectacular self, picking up right where he left off in the 2017 Finals, nearly posting a triple double in his first game in Year 15.

Unfortunately, if there’s one image most people will remember from the 2017–18’s first game, it will be Hayward lying in pain on the floor, his leg looking more like a video game glitch than something that can occur in nature. If you need something more palatable to remember, however, Irving and James shared a nice moment immediately after the end of the game. The two shared what at that point seemed like an improbable embrace, perhaps colored by what they had both witnessed earlier in the night.

The NBA will move on. Hayward will eventually return to the court. James and Irving will probably return to rival status the next time they share the floor. And sooner rather than later, the excitement for a highly anticipated season will return as well.

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