On October 17th, the Celtics entered Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio with a new look. Over the off-season, the Celtics completely turned their roster. The previous one seed from the Eastern Conference lost 11 of their players. They signed a star in Gordon Hayward, drafted a young star in Jayson Tatum, and made a blockbuster trade with Cleveland to receive Kyrie Irving. With that said, this game against Cleveland was going to set this season’s expectations for the new Celtics team, as it was a rematch of the 2017 Eastern Conference Finals, where the Celtics fell short to the Cavaliers.
Gordon Hayward’s Injury: The Boston Celtics Blessing in Disguise
(VIDEO) With just about seven minutes left in the first quarter, Kyrie Irving threw a lob pass to Gordon Hayward at the basket. Hayward went up in the air, battling for possession with LeBron James and Jae Crowder. And then we heard it; a loud snapped echoed through the arena, and all eyes were on Hayward. His ankle had gone in a completely different direction. Quicken Loans Arena fell silent, and players and fans were emotionally distraught.
Hayward was soon taken off the court in a stretcher, and everyone knew it would be the last time he would be on the court for a long time. He was later diagnosed with a fractured ankle and is expected to miss the rest of the season.
The initial thought from fans was that Boston’s season was over. Without Hayward, there was no chance the Celtics young roster could compete with the Cavaliers to move past the Eastern Conference Finals. But that is not necessarily true; after starting off 0-2, which is expected from a team with many new faces, the Celtics have gone on a seven game rampage, keeping all opponents under 95 points. After their most recent win against the Thunder, an impressive win, they now top the Eastern Conference at 7-2.
The Promising Duo of Tatum and Brown
Hayward’s injury allowed for different players to get more playing time, which would not have happened if Hayward was healthy. Tatum, the third overall pick in the 2017 NBA draft, has emerged as one of the top rookies. He has been playing like a 10-year league veteran, as he always knows what to do. Early on, he has been compared to retired NBA superstar Paul Pierce. Tatum, originally only expected to play around 10 minutes a game, is playing 32.2 MPG, while averaging 14 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists, and a block.
21 year old Jaylen Brown has also elevated his game to a new level. The 6’7 wing is playing 32 minutes a game, averaging 16 points, 5 rebounds, and an assist. What is even more impressive from the 3rd overall pick from the 2016 NBA draft is he is hitting three pointers consistently at 41 percent. The young combo of Brown and Tatum are showing potentials of stardom at a young age, with Brown being 21 and Tatum being 19.
The Leadership of Irving and Horford
Irving is showing Danny Ainge and all of the Celtics fans he was worth the trade. What he is also showing is he is doing fine without being overlooked by LeBron’s shadow. Irving is playing 34 minutes and averaging 22 points, 6 assists, and 3 rebounds. Kyrie is also on a new level defensively, averaging just shy of 3 steals a game and a 93.0 defensive rating.
Al Horford has also improved since last season, showing how versatile of a player he is. He has improved his rebounding numbers, which was one of Boston’s problems last year. Averaging 14 points, 9 rebounds, and 4 assists, he is a cornerstone of the young Celtics team.
Role Players Stepping up When Needed
With this Celtics team, it is not just the starters making a contribution. Role players like Marcus Smart, Aron Baynes, Terry Rozier, Daniel Theis, Semi Ojeleye, Shane Larkin, Abdel Nader, and Guerschon Yabusele are all making contributions when needed. In the recent game against the Sacramento Kings, fans got to see what these players can do, as they played most of the second half. They all played well together, especially considering it was only their eighth game together. Theis even recorded his first career double-double, with 10 points and 10 rebounds.
This year’s Celtics team is something special, and all credit goes to Brad Stevens. He fosters a team first mentality. All players on his team want to be the best, and they all want to win. Everyone has a role, and Stevens makes sure they know what their role is and how to accomplish it, whether it be rebounding, scoring, or assists. Hayward’s injury is a setback for the potential super team, but the Celtics are still a top team. Marcus Morris just returned to the lineup, and he has the potential to help the younger players as a veteran presence on the roster. With such a young team and a high level of potential, the Celtics are capable of amazing things. As Celtics All-Star Kevin Garnett once said, “Anything is possible!”