Posted on October 18, 2017, by Travis Pulver

When Kyrie Irving said that he wanted the Cleveland Cavaliers to trade him, the NBA-loving free world was caught by surprise. However, as information was made public, it made little sense. He was tired of playing second-fiddle to LeBron James. He wanted to be the man. But then the teams he wanted to go to already had established stars.

So, did he want to be the man or did he just want to be anywhere LeBron James was not?

Via @sn_nba

Fans got another shock when the Cleveland Cavaliers did trade him to their Eastern Conference Finals foes, the Boston Celtics. On the one hand, you don’t want to make the enemy stronger, but they were getting a good return for him.

But then Kyrie was going to a team with established star power in Gordon Hayward. So, while he may not be the No. 2 anymore, he still wouldn’t be the definitive No. 1 option for the team.

That is until the Celtics season opener Tuesday against the Cavaliers. A few minutes after the game started, Gordon Hayward went down with a gruesome, season-ending injury. About halfway through the first quarter, he went up for an alley-oop pass, collided with LeBron James, hit the court, and then collapsed.

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens shared the extent of the injury after the game—dislocated ankle and fractured tibia. He’s out for the season.

“You hurt for him,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said of Hayward (ESPN). “It’s a tough, tough deal, but I guess that’s part of the risk of injury. I really feel for him.”

Fans were eager to see what Stevens could do with his former college star (Hayward played for Stevens at Butler) and Irving. But now they will be anxious to see how Stevens can refocus the team and get them moving forward. Hayward’s presence can’t be replaced. But the team will need to find some way to replace his production if they are going to be competitive this season.

If Tuesday night’s game is any indication, the Celtics may still be in good shape.

The Celtics struggled to get on track after seeing Hayward go down and were behind 54-38 at the end of the first half. They fell behind by 18-points during the third period but were able to take a brief 71-69 lead thanks to a Marcus Smart layup with four seconds on the clock.

But then Derrick Rose hit a three before the buzzer to give the Cavs a 72-71 lead heading into the fourth. In the end, Jaylen Brown and Kyrie Irving attempted three-pointers in the final seconds of the game, but both missed (final score—102-99, Cleveland).

Via @NBCSports

So, without their high-priced free agent acquisition, the Celtics were able to overcome a pretty big halftime deficit and make the game competitive—and on the road!

Will they become bottom-feeders without Hayward? Absolutely not! But to compete in the East, they will need a few things to happen. Kyrie Irving will need to be the guy he thinks he is. Jaylen Brown, Al Horford, and Marcus Smart will need to step their game up. If Jayson Tatum can play as he did in college—well, that wouldn’t hurt either.

They’ll have a hard time beating the Cavaliers four times in a seven-game series, but they can. Can they beat the Golden State Warriors?

No.

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