By Matthew Cunha
Five minutes into the highly anticipated Celtics 2017-18 season, everything changed. Gordon Hayward’s horrific leg injury left the entire Quicken Loans Arena, and many others, shell shocked. “Oh my goodness, Hayward came down so hard. Hayward broke his leg. Hayward has broken his leg,” was the call that stings rings in my head from TNT announcer Kevin Harlan. “And that is how quickly a season can change” added Harlan.
Harlan was right. The season has changed for the 2017-18 Boston Celtics. Many Celtics fans are disappointed after waiting so long to see the new look Celtics. TNT analysts proclaimed them as now the 4th or 5th seed in the Eastern Conference. For the Celtics, having an uninjured Hayward is obviously preferred, but I want to shed some positive light for Celtics fans in the immediate wake of his injury.
#1 The young guys can play and are in line for serious minutes – Lost in the tragic nature of this injury to Hayward was the fact that the Celtics came back from a 18 point deficit to almost beat the Cavs. That comeback was made possible in large part to the performances of Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. Brown led the Celtics with 25 points on 11-23 shooting. Jayson Tatum became the first Celtics rookie since Larry Bird to record a double-double in their first game. Tatum scored of all his 14 points in the second half. Brown played 39 minutes. Tatum played 36 minutes. For one night, these guys proved that they can play and contribute to a team in the NBA. Without Hayward, these guys will be expected to contribute and will continue to play big minutes. When and if Hayward comes back, Brown and Tatum will be better off because of the experience.
#2 Just how good is Marcus Smart? We are about to find out – You would suspect that Marcus Smart will be the addition the Celtics starting lineup without Gordon Hayward. After not coming to an extension with the Celtics, Smart has a lot to prove this season. He was quoted before the season saying that he wants to win defensive player of the year and his odds of doing so may have improved after the injury to Hayward. Smart has his chance now to show the Celtics he is worthy of a big time extension and if he plays up to a defensive player of the year caliber. If not, you can let him go, but either way you are gonna know a lot more about Marcus Smart come season’s end, than you do right now.
#3 Please people, the Celtics are still a really good team – The Celtics got worse on Tuesday night, but how much worse is being blown out of proportion. TNT had them behind the Wizards and Raptors, but they are still as good as those teams. The C’s lost the clear #2 spot and any chance of making it to the NBA finals, but the season is not a bust in the weak Eastern Conference. Efforts like the one we saw in the second half alone will win them a lot of games in the East. They still have Kyrie, they still have Al Horford, and they still have the three guys previously mentioned, who are age 23 and under and have a great chance to showcase their skills. The Wizards have character and bench issues, and the Raptors have some depth issues. At the end of the day, I expect the Celtics to be right in the middle of the race for the second best team in the East much like they were last season.
The Gordon Hayward injury sucks for Celtics fans, but the futures still bright for this young Celtics team.
Matthew Cunha is a producer of The Drive, weekdays 4pm to 6pm on 92.9fm The Ticket and streaming live at DriveShowMaine.com. Follow us on Twitter, @DriveShowMaine and “Like Us” on Facebook, Drive Show Maine.