For any team, health is the great unknown. And heading into the playoffs, the Celtics knew that all too well.
Before the season paused, Boston’s top 7 rotation players were available in the same game only eight times. But entering the playoffs, the C’s were finally healthy and looking forward to making a deep postseason run.
But they couldn’t even get through one playoff game without losing a starter, as Gordon Hayward is set to miss around four weeks with a Grade III ankle sprain.
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The question remains: Can Boston weather Hayward’s loss and stay alive until he’s ready to return in mid-September? Celtics legend Paul Pierce isn’t so sure.
“I think it’s a huge blow. When you look down at that roster, there’s not much depth – Marcus Smart, Enes Kanter… The bench scored 8 points in Game 1. You know how much they won by? Eight points,” Pierce said during an appearance on ESPN’s “First Take” Wednesday morning.
“That’s a critical blow for them to lose that point production, a guy who can spread the floor, who can knock down shots, a guy who can get the ball and play pick-and-roll. Yes, (Jayson) Tatum and (Jaylen) Brown’s numbers will go up, but I think with his injury, it’s going to level the playing field with Philadelphia. They didn’t win by much and the Celtics don’t have a deep bench, so this series could be a long series for Boston.”
Hayward had averaged 17.5 points per game this season, but had upped that production to 18.7 points per game in Boston’s eight seeding games, including a 31-point effort against Orlando. While he doesn’t deliver All-Star production anymore, he’s an invaluable part of the Celtics, both on offense and defense – and there’s no doubt that the Celtics’ depth takes a big hit with Hayward out.
“This guy is the fourth option. They need that 17 (points). What other fourth options around the league are giving you 17 points a game and could potentially be an All-Star again when right?” Pierce added. “You need a guy like this. You got Kemba (walker), Tatum and Brown. Those are the guys. His role is going to be his role… He’s the perfect complement to what they need.”
Hayward was already expected to leave the Orlando bubble in September for the birth of his fourth child, and considering he’s projected to miss four weeks, he might return around the time when the Eastern Conference Finals start – if the Celtics are still alive. A potential second-round series against the defending champion Raptors looms if the C’s can get past the 76ers. And Pierce thinks Hayward’s injury could affect which Eastern Conference team advances to the NBA Finals.
“I had the Celtics coming out of the East because the way I see it, when you look at it now, the East is wide open,” Pierce said. “I mean, Orlando beat Milwaukee – they look vulnerable and no home-court advantage. That was a huge blow for Milwaukee. They were the favorites because they would have had home-court advantage, crowd behind them, new stadium, and so it’s wide open.”
Despite Hayward’s injury, the Celtics are still listed with the third-best odds to come out of the East, per DraftKings Sportsbook. Boston’s +500 odds trail only the Bucks (-134) and Raptors (+250).
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Why Paul Pierce thinks Gordon Hayward’s injury is ‘critical blow’ for Celtics originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston