The Boston Celtics got their 2020 NBA playoffs journey out to a good start on Monday evening, beating the Philadelphia 76ers, 109-101 in Game 1 of their first-round series. Unfortunately, they lost a key member of their starting lineup in the process.
Late in the fourth quarter, Gordon Hayward landed on Daniel Theis’ foot while fighting for a rebound, and suffered a nasty looking ankle sprain in the process, leading to Hayward hobbling off the court. The forward will be out for four weeks with a Grade 3 ankle sprain, the team announced Tuesday. It’s worth noting that this is his right ankle, which is not the one he fractured and dislocated in gruesome fashion back on opening night in 2017.
Still, this is a huge blow for the Celtics. With the condensed schedule inside the bubble, Hayward will be out for the rest of the first round, and likely the entire second round as well, should Boston advance. The conference finals are tentatively scheduled to begin on Sept. 15, which is just shy of four weeks from Tuesday. Depending on how things go with his recovery, there’s a slight chance he could return late in a second-round series, but the Celtics won’t be counting on that.
After struggling to regain his feel and confidence last season, this campaign was a return to form for the former All-Star. Hayward put up 17.5 points, 6.7 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game, while shooting 50 percent from the field in the regular season. The only other player in Celtics history to put up 17/6/4 on 50 percent shooting was Larry Bird.
Hayward’s steadiness and versatility on the wing were crucial for the Celtics this season. He was comfortable handling the ball and running the offense, but could also space the floor to knock down 3s and attack closeouts off the dribble. And while certainly not the best defender of all time, he gave them another long, switchable defender on the perimeter. Most of the Celtics’ best lineups this season included Hayward, and his plus-4.7 on/off differential was second on the team to only Jayson Tatum.
With Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Kemba Walker, the Celtics still have plenty of talent, and should be able to close out the short-handed Sixers, though the task just got more difficult. It’s a potential second-round matchup with the Toronto Raptors, however, where Hayward’s absence would be felt the most.