At 7-1, the Celtics have established themselves as the top team in the East, having dropped their season opener before running off a string of seven straight wins—including Ws over Toronto and Milwaukee, plus a sweep of their current three-game road trip, which ended Saturday in San Antonio.
But the win over the Spurs proved costly: Near the end of the first half, Gordon Hayward reached his left hand out toward a LaMarcus Aldridge screen as he defended a Dejounte Murray drive. Hayward immediately grabbed at the hand and exited the game.
The team announced he had a fracture, though the extent of the injury, whether it will need surgery and the length of the recovery is yet to be known. The Warriors’ Stephen Curry also suffered a fractured hand that required surgery and Golden State announced he would be re-evaluated in three months.
Hayward is sure to miss at least a month, depending on which bone in his hand is broken and whether surgery will be required.
“It sounds like, should he decide that, the surgery option might actually be a better timeline,” coach Brad Stevens said. “We’ll see what that all plays out to be. Who knows? It’s too bad.”
It’s a tough blow for the Celtics as a team, given how well Hayward had been playing. On the first game of Boston’s trip, in Cleveland, Hayward had a game of 39 points, seven rebounds and eight assists. He followed that with 20 points, 10 rebounds and six assists in Charlotte on Thursday.
He had nine points in 14 minutes when he went out against the Spurs.
It’s also an especially difficult blow for Hayward, who had missed nearly all of the 2017-18 season, his first with the Celtics, with a broken ankle suffered on Opening Night. He struggled to return to form last year, when he averaged 11.5 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.4 assists in a mostly bench role.
Coming into the season some in Boston felt Hayward looked good enough to earn an All-Star spot this year. He was making a solid case in the season’s first month.
But by the time the Celtics returned home on Saturday, Hayward’s hand was in a cast.
Jaylen Brown Ready to Show ‘How Much Better I’ve Gotten’
The absence of Hayward will put the spotlight on Boston’s other two star forwards, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. After signing a four-year extension worth $115 million in the offseason—a surprise to many around the league—Brown will be under intense scrutiny.
He averaged only 13.0 points last season, after averaging 14.5 points in his second year. The return of Hayward was one reason his numbers dipped, as was the style of play of ball-dominant point guard Kyrie Irving.
But Brown responded, in a big way, to Hayward’s absence on Saturday. He scored 30 points on 10-for-18 shooting against the Spurs, making nine of his 10 free throws—a career-high for attempts and makes at the line. Brown had been playing well when Hayward was hurt but scored 18 points after the injury.
“I wouldn’t say (the game) slowed down,” Brown said. “I just think a different role, more opportunity. I keep preaching that. I don’t think I had the same opportunity last year.”
Brown just returned on Thursday after three games away as he battled an infection. He had 12 points on 5-for-9 shooting in the win over the Hornets, but, according to NBCSports Boston, Brown felt he was just getting started.
“I can’t wait to get it back rolling, and for people to see how much better I’ve gotten,” he said. “You see it in spurts but people will see it. I’m sure of it.”
Saturday night was a good start. And with Hayward out, Brown will have ample opportunity to show just how much better he is.