Impact of Gordon Hayward’s ankle injury on the Celtics’ NBA title aspirations

By Vincent Frank
Aug 17, 2020; Lake Buena Vista, Florida, USA; Boston Celtics forward Gordon Hayward (20) drives against Philadelphia 76ers forward Tobias Harris (12) in the first half in game one of the first round of the 2020 NBA Playoffs at The Field House. Mandatory Credit: Ashley Landis/Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports

The Boston Celtics rode the hot shooting of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown to a win over the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference Playoffs matchup on Monday.

Unfortunately for Boston, the game did not come without a major loss. Injury-plagued forward Gordon Hayward suffered a right ankle sprain in the fourth quarter. Hayward was seen in a walking boot and using crutches after the game.

We now have some bad news on this front. Boston announced on Tuesday that Hayward suffered a Grade 3 sprain and is expected to miss a month of action. This could obviously have some wide-ranging ramifications as the Celtics look to come out of the Eastern Conference and earn an appearance in the NBA Finals.

Gordon Hayward is important to the Celtics’ success

  • After missing all but one game in his first season with Boston (2017-18) due to a significant lower-body injury, Hayward struggled when returned last season. The high-priced free-agent signing averaged just 11.5 points on 46% shooting.
  • That has changed big time during the 2019-20 season. Hayward finished the regular year averaging 17.5 points, 6.7 rebounds and 4.1 assists on a robust 50% shooting from the field. He also started all 52 games in which he appeared.

Celtics’ thin rotation could become an even larger issue

  • Let’s look at Monday’s night win over Philadelphia as a recent example. Four of Boston’s five starters played 34 minutes or more in the narrow win. The only exception being Daniel Theis (25 minutes). Top reserve Marcus Smart contributed 32 minutes.
  • After that, it gets tricky for Boston. Robert Williams, Brad Wanamaker, Enes Kanter and Grant Williams played a combined 33 minutes off the bench. The four also went for a combined six points. That’s just not going to get it done.
  • The Celtics will now be relying more than ever before on the trio of Tatum, Brown and Kemba Walker to do their thing. It might not impact the team too much against a Philadelphia squad without Ben Simmons, but it’s going to be an issue moving forward.

Gordon Hayward’s timeline for returning is troublesome

  • The one-month time fame Boston indicated Tuesday would have Hayward back no earlier than the Eastern Conference Finals. This means that the forward will likely miss the next round should Boston advance.
  • This also means a likely date against the defending NBA champion Toronto Raptors in the conference semifinals. Toronto is going to take care of a lesser Brooklyn Nets squad in Round 1.
  • If that’s the case, going up against Toronto without Hayward’s scoring ability is going to be a major issues for Boston. The Raptors have multiple players able to go for 30-plus on a nightly basis.

Bottom line

Already thin from a rotation standpoint, losing Hayward for the next month could very well hamper the Celtics’ aspirations of leaving Orlando with the NBA title.

It’s now going to be up to Tatum and Brown to continue their upward trajectory. Not only that, the recently-extended Brad Stevens must find the right mix off the bench. If this doesn’t happen, a premature exit from the Disney bubble could be in the cards for Boston.