Hayward injury hovers over Celtics with Sixers on tap (Oct 20, 2017)

October 20, 2017

The new-look Boston Celtics will be seeking their first victory of the season when they visit the Philadelphia 76ers on Friday night.

It figures to take far longer for the Celtics to discover their identity than what they expected during the offseason.

Boston, having already undergone an extensive off-season makeover, lost one of its new acquisitions, forward Gordon Hayward, to a gruesome leg injury a little over five minutes into Tuesday night's season-opening 102-99 loss in Cleveland.

Hayward, who signed a four-year, $128 million free-agent contract with the Celtics in July, suffered a dislocated left ankle and fractured tibia and underwent surgery on Wednesday. His agent, Mark Bartelstein, told ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski that Hayward is unlikely to return this season.

That is an enormous blow to the Celtics, who harbored hopes of unseating the Cavaliers as Eastern Conference champions after bringing in not only Hayward, formerly of the Utah Jazz, but All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving in a trade with Cleveland.

In all, Boston returned just four players from last year's team, which finished with the East's best regular-season record but bowed out to the Cavs in the conference finals.

Now the Celtics have been forced to reshuffle the deck. Coach Brad Stevens dug deep into his bench in Wednesday's home opener against Milwaukee, but Boston fell to 0-2 with a 108-100 loss.

"I'm hopeful that we can find the right combinations," Stevens told the Boston Globe. "Obviously, we didn't anticipate going maybe this far in the bench this early. I thought some of those guys did a pretty good job. The part that we've got to find is the combination that works all together. Especially when we go to the bench. We'll find it."

The Sixers will be staging their home opener, after beginning the season with a 120-115 loss in Washington on Wednesday night. That game marked the debuts of guard/forward Ben Simmons and guard Markelle Fultz, the top picks in each of the last two drafts.

Simmons, who missed all of last season with a broken foot, finished with 18 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and just a single turnover, and told reporters afterward it "felt like (he) was playing (NBA) 2K," a popular video game.

Fultz scored 10 points off the bench.

Robert Covington notched 29 points to pace the Sixers, and center Joel Embiid, playing his first game since suffering a knee injury last January, generated 18 points and 13 rebounds while playing nearly 27 minutes.

Embiid, who appeared in just 31 games as a rookie in 2016-17, reacted angrily when told by reporters after Tuesday's practice he would be on a minutes restriction. He told Philly.com Wednesday that that limit was 16 or 17 minutes, while Sixers coach Brett Brown told reporters it would be no more than 20.

According to Philly.com, Embiid lobbied for more.

"They listened to me," Embiid said. "That's the partnership you got to have. You got to understand each other. They got to listen to me. I got to listen to what they have to say and work on that.

"But I was happy and excited. Hopefully (the minutes) keep going on up."