The excitement of Opening Night in the NBA quickly faded as Celtics forward Gordon Hayward suffered a traumatic leg injury just minutes into the first game of the season. Hayward was immediately tended to by the Boston medical team as players from both teams averted their eyes from the gruesome scene.
Footage of the injury showed Hayward’s left ankle violently twisted at an unnatural angle, indicating a dislocation of the ankle. ESPN reports the dislocation was reset on the court. A quick reduction is important to minimize any potential neurovascular problems. It can also provide pain relief for the injured individual. Further testing performed in the arena confirmed these speculations and revealed a fractured tibia. According to NBC Sports Boston reporter A. Sherrod Blakely, Hayward was transported by Medflight back to Boston and is expected to undergo surgery shortly.
Determining how long Hayward will be sidelined is difficult as injuries of this magnitude rarely have a good comparison, especially in the NBA. Initial associations to Paul George’s gruesome leg injury during the summer of 2014 are natural but the two injuries are drastically different. George’s injury was an open fracture of both the tibia and the fibula. Though a rod was eventually inserted to stabilize the fracture site, the break actually occurred in a favorable location. By breaking the bones near the mid-shaft, George was able to avoid extensive ligament and tendon damage.
However, it is unlikely Hayward was as fortunate. His break occurred at the distal end of the tibia, a site that serves as an anchor site for multiple ligaments. Furthermore, it is rare that a dislocation occurs without some level of ligament or soft tissue damage. Damage to the articular cartilage of the talus must also be considered.
Surgery to fix the area will likely involve surgical screws and a plate, not a rod. These implants help stabilize the injury site as the associated ligament damage heals. Any complex ligament injuries may need to be surgically addressed as well.
The closest comparable injury in the InStreetClothes.com NBA Injury Database occurred during the 2006-07 season when 76ers forward Shavlik Randolph suffered a broken and dislocated left ankle. The injury occurred in practice and wasn’t televised but the scene was reported as “gruesome.” Randolph underwent surgery later that day and missed the remaining 68 games of the season.
More information will surface following Hayward’s surgery that could help establish a more definitive timeline. For now, a prolonged absence for the All-Star forward is unavoidable and the Celtics will be forced to proceed without their key free agent signing. Boston plays Wednesday at home against the Bucks.