10/18 Game Preview: Bucks at Celtics
BOSTON -- The excitement and anticipation of the new season came crashing down just over five minutes into the first quarter of the first game on Tuesday night.
Gordon Hayward, the Celtics' key free agent signee who was joined by Kyrie Irving on a revamped Boston roster, sustained a gruesome injury going up against the Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James and Jae Crowder on an alley-oop. Hayward may miss the rest of his first season with his new team.
The Celtics play their home opener against the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday night, presumably after Hayward undergoes surgery for what coach Brad Stevens said was a dislocated left ankle and broken tibia.
Hayward accompanied the team on its flight home after the Celtics' 102-99 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
"You hurt for him," Stevens said. "He's put in a lot of great work, and I thought he'd just had his most comfortable week as far feeling like he was going to play really well.
"But now, hopefully, we'll get a full recovery. It's a tough deal, but that's part of it, the risk of injury. I really feel for him."
Players from both teams were stunned by the injury. The Celtics wound up trailing by 18 points before rallying and almost winning the game -- on a night that was supposed to be all about Irving's return to Cleveland but turned into something else entirely.
"It was tough to keep playing after that," said Crowder, who went to Cleveland with Isaiah Thomas in the Irving deal.
Wednesday night was supposed to be about the regular-season home unveiling for an Eastern Conference finalist that returns only four players from that team. Now, the Hayward injury will be much of the story.
The Bucks, a talented young team, went 42-40 and lost a tough first-round playoff series to the Toronto Raptors last season. The Wednesday game will be their opener.
Milwaukee finished last season without Jabari Parker, who sustained a second torn anterior cruciate ligament and won't be back until February. He averaged 20.1 points, 6.2 rebounds and 2.8 assists in 33.9 minutes per game in 2016-17.
His absence makes life tougher on star Giannis Antetokounmpo and the rest of the young Milwaukee team.
"Being young is not an excuse anymore," said Bucks guard Rashad Vaughn, who is entering his third season. "Not being ready is not an excuse. We have no excuses.
"We've got a lot of experience on this team; a lot of people have been in this league a long time. Going to the playoffs last year gave us that experience. There's no excuses at all.
"We've got to come out and be ready to play and accomplish the goals we've set as a team."
The Bucks filled out their 15-man roster in the days leading up to their opener, adding Gary Payton II and veteran journeyman DeAndre Liggins.
"We've got the same team basically with the same guys," Vaughn told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "I think we're going to hit the ground running. We're hungry. You can tell by how we're practicing. Our urge to win and to be better than last year is at an all-time high."
The Celtics won last year's season series 2-1, with the teams splitting two games at TD Garden.
Thomas had 69 points in the first two games before playing only 22-plus minutes in the third game -- the regular-season finale.
After playing in Boston on Wednesday night, the Bucks, who were in their Boston hotel on Tuesday watching the Celtics on television, host the Cavaliers on Friday in the home opener at Milwaukee.