On opening night at Cleveland, Gordon Hayward, the Boston Celtics' big free agent acquisition of the summer, went down with a dislocated and fractured left tibia. Hayward underwent surgery on Wednesday and could be done for the season. Given the severity of his injury, the Celtics have to expect the worst and plan on playing the entire season without their star small forward. With this being the grim reality, the question that is on the minds of everyone is whether or not the Celtics can survive the season without him.
Gordon Hayward has a message for Celtics Nation. pic.twitter.com/H6RHeGgios— Boston Celtics (@celtics) October 18, 2017
On the surface, there's no way to paint a pretty picture of this situation. Hayward averaged a career best 21.9 points per game last season and is just starting to enter his prime. Given how badly the Celtics fared against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals last season, it's hard to see them reaching the NBA Finals with Hayward on the sidelines for the rest of the season.
If the Celtics want any chance of making a run for the Eastern Conference crown, they'll need to get big production from Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, two small forwards who they selected third overall in the 2016 and 2017 NBA drafts respectively. Given that Brown is in his second year and Tatum is a rookie, there will be more expected of Brown this season to deliver the goods, especially in the early portion of the season.
The good news for the Celtics is that so far, both guys, especially Brown, are stepping up in Hayward's absence. On Tuesday night against the Cavaliers, Brown scored 25 points, grabbed 6 rebounds, and got 2 steals. On Wednesday night against the Bucks, Brown had 18 points, 5 rebounds, and 3 assists. As for Tatum, he finished with a double-double against the Cavaliers with 14 points and 10 rebounds while finishing with 8 points and 9 rebounds against the Bucks.
If both Brown and Tatum continue to produce like this, the Celtics could find a way to make things interesting in the Eastern Conference. As #3 overall picks, they definitely have the talent to do so. It's just a matter of them finding a way to consistently play up to their maximum potential four out of five nights.
While Kyrie Irving and Al Horford are going to have to carry the load as the two experienced stars on the team, the Celtics' season really comes down to how well Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum step up. They'll be getting the bulk of the minutes at the small forward spot and will need to make up for Hayward's absence. If they are able to do so, the Celtics' season isn't lost. If not, we might as well pencil in the Cavaliers as Eastern Conference champions assuming LeBron James doesn't go down.
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