The Celtics’ mission to reach the NBA Finals this season suddenly has become all the more challenging.
Boston is expected to be without Gordon Hayward for four weeks. The veteran forward, who recently had been showing shades of his former All-Star self, sprained his ankle Monday in the Celtics’ Game 1 win over the 76ers. Boston should be able to get past Philadelphia in Hayward’s absence, but the Eastern Conference semifinals — regardless of opponent — of course would present a much steeper task.
Danny Ainge weighed in on Hayward’s injury Wednesday during an appearance on 98.5 The Sports Hub’s “Toucher & Rich.” The Celtics president of basketball operations explained what the team will be missing with the 10th-year pro sidelined.
“The Gordon injury is devastating to us,” Ainge said. “I’m not sure the average fan understands how important he is just because Jaylen (Brown) and Jayson (Tatum) are really coming into their own, Kemba’s (Walker) had his unbelievable moments this year. Gordon is a facilitator. He’s our most efficient offensive player, but he doesn’t have the same kind of usage that the other guys have. He’s very unselfish and yet he’s capable of taking games over at times when we need it, when guys are resting. He has been a leader of our bench group oftentimes. It’s just crushing for him and it really hurts our team. I don’t know how long he’ll be out. I think we’ll know more in the next four, five days and see how the swelling responds. But I feel bad for Gordon, as well. I know how hard he’s worked just to get himself back ready for this opportunity.”
The C’s and Sixers will meet for Game 2 on Wednesday, with tip-off from Orlando set for 6:30 p.m. ET. Marcus Smart appears to be the likeliest option to replace Hayward in Boston’s starting lineup.