On Tuesday, Gordon Hayward debuted with the Boston Celtics. And his season ended after not even six minutes of game time.

With six minutes and 50 seconds left in the first quarter, Kyrie Irving controlled the ball on the left wing as the action unfolded. The play was rudimentary: Gordon Hayward would cut backdoor and elevate for an alley-oop. He did just that, but no one watching or playing expected the outcome that followed. When Hayward went up, he collided with LeBron James, a mountain with legs, and came crashing down. You heard a snap. Kevin Harlan’s voice reverberated over the telecast — “He’s broken his leg.” When the camera panned, you saw Hayward sat with the lower part of his tibia pushing out against his green compression shorts.

It was a nauseating moment. Everyone sat with mouths agape after witnessing an injury that had Paul George levels of severity. I sat with my girlfriend in her room. When TNT cut to Hayward, the doctors had not yet reached him to reset his leg. The sight had me shaken, and I didn’t return to normal until mid-way through the fourth quarter. LeBron James and Isaiah Thomas, someone who recruited Hayward to Boston, met with him while he was back in the Cleveland Cavaliers locker room, showing that these guys are people just like you and I and that basketball is just a game. You’d never wish what happened to Gordon on your worst enemy. As of Wednesday afternoon, the official diagnosis is a fractured ankle. The date of surgery is unknown, meaning the timetable for his return is unknown.

Also Read: Neither Team Got Better From Irving-Thomas Deal

Hayward left the game on Tuesday thanks to a freak accident on a routine play, and that’s what makes it even more devastating. Anyone who plays basketball at all — whether it’s an organized league or pick-up, recreational or professional — has jumped just like Hayward did, and it’s a cruel and unfortunate reminder that injuries can happen whenever.

Countless players across the league sent prayers to Hayward; NFL stars J.J. Watt and Odell Beckham Jr., who also experienced season-ending injuries, offered their words to Hayward because it’s crushing to see a rising star go through something this catastrophic.

If you want to watch the video, click here. Please be advised that the footage is graphic and is NSFW.

The 27-year-old still has his entire prime ahead of him. We don’t know how much time he’ll miss, but it’s safe to say that this season is over and he’ll possibly be out even longer depending on ligament damage (please note that I’m paraphrasing medical professionals). By no means does Hayward have to rush back from this injury, mainly because there’s the risk that his career might not be the same going forward.

Last season, Hayward made his first All-Star team and averaged 21.9 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.5 assists for a Utah Jazz squad that won 51 games. This season, he and Kyrie Irving were expected to contend for a title. Now, that seems far less likely.

Boston parted ways with 80 percent of their most-used starting lineup from last season:

Danny Ainge must’ve felt that that team didn’t have a legitimate shot to compete because Thomas was their lone star. Once teams realized that they could just throw multiple bodies at Thomas late in games, the Celtics offense would stagnate. Signing Hayward was the second-option that Boston needed. However, Thomas has been battling hip problems for God knows how long and also wouldn’t help the Celtics long-term, which is why Ainge went out and traded for Kyrie; he felt he was exchanging “good” for “great.”

An Irving-Hayward tandem is solid, and they were more than capable of finishing atop of a depleted Eastern Conference. I didn’t pick them to represent the East in the Finals, but it wasn’t laughable for anyone to go that route. They’re a more well-rounded team than Cleveland, who’s going to ride LeBron James before getting squashed by Golden State in five games. If (once) James leaves Cleveland, the East is Boston’s to lose. And that’s what the team was planning for.

Before the injury, Hayward made the Celtics even more dynamic. At 6-8, he can slide into multiple slots on offense and defense at least two positions on defense. Unlike LeBron James or Giannis Antetokounmpo or Jimmy Butler or Kawhi Leonard, Hayward doesn’t possess elite explosiveness or athleticism, and he’s spent the last handful of seasons perfecting his three-level scoring ability. With the Jazz, Hayward was their go-to scorer, but the team didn’t focus on putting points on the board. Now with the Celtics, Hayward’s on a squad with the potential to pair an elite offense with an elite defense, and he’s got no problem doing either.

Oct 17, 2017; Cleveland, OH, USA; Boston Celtics guard Kyrie Irving (11) yells at fans after Boston Celtics forward Gordon Hayward injured his ankle during the first half at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 17, 2017; Cleveland, OH, USA; Boston Celtics guard Kyrie Irving (11) yells at fans after Boston Celtics forward Gordon Hayward injured his ankle during the first half at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Brad Stevens is the best young coach in the game. There would be minimal hiccups forming a system around Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. In 2017, Hayward was lethal coming off screens (83rd percentile) and spotting up (84th percentile), and that presents a host of opportunity for the Celtics. You can, of course, run specific plays to get your star open, which is fine, but you can also leave him away from the action and run sets to draw the attention of the defense which becomes a bit easier when Kyrie is handling the ball. When Irving goes in his bag, all five players are worried about helping. He can collapse the defense almost at will, and he’d be looking toward Hayward as his immediate help. Moreover, Boston has other weapons that teams will need to worry about; Al Horford is still a solid player, and Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum flashed some potential against Cleveland.

That’s the foundation of what Boston could do with a healthy Hayward, and it would get far more intricate as the season wore on.

Hayward’s injury impacts the entire league because the Eastern Conference is weaker now. Skip Bayless got dragged for talking about how LeBron’s path to the Finals is straightforward without Hayward. It’s true, but the reason Twitter roasted him was that he said that literally minutes after the incident happened. At that moment, the last person you should talk about is LeBron. Now that time has passed, we have to look at the construction of the conference objectively, and yes, James’ path to the championship likely won’t be as challenging.

A lot of people who watch the NBA are, I guess, tired of seeing the Warriors and Cavaliers meet in the Finals. Gordon Hayward was leading a Celtics team who could put an end to that, and now that’s not likely

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