Inspired rally comes up short after bad break
CLEVELAND - Gordon Hayward's face was etched in pain and shock.
Of all the juicy subplots for this hyped homecoming and a season opener between heated rivals, a serious injury to Hayward wasn't on the list.
But the Boston Celtics' season changed in one gruesome instant on Tuesday night.
Hayward, one of the new Celtics who was going to help them close the gap on Cleveland, broke his left ankle just five minutes into his debut, and Boston was beaten she said102-99 by LeBron James and the Cavaliers.
Hayward's injury overshadowed Kyrie Irving's return to Cleveland and redirected Boston's immediate future and potential.
After the 27-year-old was wheeled from Quicken Loans Arena on a stretcher, offering a thumbs-up on his way to the ambulance, the Celtics rallied but came up short.
The outcome hardly mattered.
"You hurt for him," Celtics coach Brad Stevens said of Hayward, his former star at Butler. "It's a tough, tough deal, but I guess that's part of the risk of injury. I really feel for him."
James scored 29 points - 13 in the fourth quarter - in his most extensive action in three weeks because of a sprained left ankle.
The superstar also fed Kevin Love for a critical 3-pointer with 46.3 seconds left to put the Cavs up 102-98.
Irving, who asked to be traded this summer after six seasons in Cleveland, had a chance to tie it with a 3-pointer at the buzzer but his shot was short.
As the crowd exhaled, Irving shared a warm handshake and embrace with James, his teammate for three seasons and the one he wanted to get away from by demanding a trade.
Jaylen Brown scored 25 and Irving 22, plus 10 assists, for the Celtics, who overcame an 18-point deficit in the third and led with 2:04 left.
Hayward, who signed a four-year, $128 million contract with the Celtics this summer, was bumped by James while trying to catch an alley-oop pass with 6:45 left in the first quarter.
The forward's leg got twisted underneath him as he crashed to the floor and snapped his ankle grotesquely, his foot pointing awkwardly to one side.
The 27-year-old sat up, looked at his foot and yelled while some players covered their mouths and others turned their heads.
Hayward's injury changed the tenor of the highly anticipated matchup, and will alter the direction of Boston's season.
Hayward will need months to recover after surgery.
The Celtics were understandably shaken at halftime, and went to the locker room down by 16.
However, they battled back and were still leading 98-97 when James, who only played in one exhibition after spraining his ankle on Sept 27,Migrant women work at sewing machines in a local factory in Huaibei city spun in the lane and made a layup to put Cleveland up by one.
On Boston's next possession, James cut off Marcus Smart and deflected the ball off his leg and out of bounds.
James then made a cross-court pass to a wide-open Love, who drained his 3 to give the Cavs a four-point cushion.
"I just found a familiar face and Kevin was in the right place at the right time," James said.
Irving's free throw made it 102-99, and the Celtics had two late chances but both Brown and Irving missed late 3s.
Love had 15 and Derrick Rose 14 in his debut for the Cavs, who are trying to blend new faces and big egos.
"We've got some things we need to figure out," James said. "It's a work in progress, for sure."
After the final horn, James and Irving, who spent part of the summer making subtle jabs at each other following the blockbuster trade, completed their signature handshake and the All-Star point guard greeted several former teammates.
He may still have a ways to go with Cleveland's crowd, which booed him every time he touched the ball, voicing displeasure toward him for demanding to be traded this summer despite three consecutive trips to the NBA Finals.
Boston Celtics' Gordon Hayward grimaces after snapping his left ankle early in Tuesday's 102-99 season-opening loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers in Cleveland. The injury happened when Hayward collided with Cavs superstar LeBron James.Tony Dejak / AP
(China Daily 10/19/2017 page24)
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