Gruesome injury overshadows Cavaliers opening night win 102-99  
​ BY STONE LEXINGTON
CAVALIERS BEAT WRITER
At long last, the new NBA season arrived Tuesday night, opening with the Boston Celtics visiting the Cleveland Cavaliers. Thanks, basketball gods.

It wasn’t difficult to eagerly anticipate the new season, considering the league just experienced its best offseason in its laudable history. While it’s always intriguing to see how high rookie draft picks will fare in their first season (Lonzo Ball, Markelle Fultz, Josh Jackson, De’Aaron Fox, Jason Tatum, etc.), there was plenty of superstar movement in the league during this year’s warmest months.

Former Los Angles Clippers point guard Chris Paul will run alongside James Harden in Houston this season, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony will play with Mr. Triple-Double, Russell Westbrook, this season in Oklahoma City and Jimmy Butler moved north to Minnesota from Chicago.

All-Star each of the past four seasons Paul Millsap will play in Denver this season, Rajon Rondo will fly with the Pelicans and Dwight Howard will attempt to cause some buzz with the Hornets in New Orleans. It’ll even be interesting to see if D’Angelo Russell can repair his league reputation in Brooklyn this season.

Notice that most of those blockbuster moves involve the Western Conference, but that gripe has been largely discussed. And while the West seems to be as loaded as ever and the Eastern Conference seems to be lacking depth, the most discussed offseason transaction may have been the Cavs trading of Kyrie Irving to the Boston Celtics for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder and incentives.

Irving didn’t have to wait long for his first game back in Cleveland, but Thomas will have to wait to face his former team as he’ll be out several months with a hip injury. Unfortunately, another injury put a damper on the entire evening Tuesday night.

The Cavs ultimately won their opener against Boston 102-99, but Celtics forward Gordon Hayward’s gruesome injury in the first quarter took most of the life out of the building. With the Celtics leading 12-9 with 6:45 remaining in the quarter, Hayward went up for an alley-oop and came down in horrific fashion. By the time he hit the floor, his left foot was pointing in the wrong direction. He was eventually diagnosed with a fractured ankle and his season could be over after opening night.

“It was very difficult,” Cavs head coach Tyronn Lue said of seeing Hayward’s injury. “Even though he’s on the opposing team, we’re still a fraternity and we’re still brothers. You never want to see anyone get injured or go down like that.”

Cleveland closed the first quarter on a 20-7 run to lead 29-19 after the injury, and the raucous energy never really seemed to reignite itself in The Q. Cleveland led 54-38 at halftime, but the crowd was also largely subdued in the second half because of a furious Celtics comeback.

When LeBron James spun around Marcus Smart and finished an easy dunk with 10:25 remaining in the third quarter, the Cavs had a commanding 60-42 lead. But, by the time Celtics guard Marcus Smart sank two free throws with 37 seconds to play in the quarter, the game was tied at 69 apiece. Cleveland took a 72-71 lead into the fourth quarter, but they needed all they had to finish a heartbroken Celtics squad.

“You know us, when we get the lead, we started turning the basketball over, took some bad shots,” Lue said. “I thought our pace was really terrible tonight. I think we have to get in better shape.”

When Celtics guard Jayson Tatum converted a layup with 2:03 to play, Boston took a 98-95 lead. However, less than two minutes later, the Cavs secured a 99-98 lead after two Kevin Love free throws and a James layup. Cleveland never relinquished the lead again, and James and Love were the catalysts down the stretch.

With just over a minute to go, James knocked a ball off Smart on defense to get another Cavs possession. On that ensuing possession, Love knocked down a huge three-pointer to give Cleveland a 102-98 lead with 46 seconds to go. Irving, on the other hand, didn’t have a good final minute.

In the final minute, Irving airmailed a floater with roughly 30 seconds to play, while also missing a three-pointer at the buzzer that would have tied the game.

“Just have to continue to keep building on this,” Lue said. “Last year, this is a game we would have lost, so not playing well and beating a good team like the Celtics, it’s a good start for us.”

Although he was questionable before the game after nursing an ankle injury in the preseason, James was spectacular Tuesday night. The King finished with 29 points, 16 rebounds and one assists, one shy of a triple-double. Love finished with 15 points and 11 rebounds, while Derrick Rose totaled 14 points and four rebounds.

In his return to Cleveland, Irving finished with 22 points and 10 assists. Jaylen Brown led Boston with 25 points and six rebounds.

The Cavs moved to 14-3 in their last 17 matchups against Boston, including the 2015 and 2017 Playoffs. Cleveland has also won five of their last six home openers, but most minds were focused on Hayward after the game. Let’s hope he makes a full recovery.
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​POSTED 10/17/2017 23:43
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