WASHINGTON (AFP) - Boston's Gordon Hayward suffered a gruesome broken left ankle injury barely five minutes into the new National Basketball Association (NBA) season on Tuesday (Oct 17), overshadowing the Cleveland Cavaliers' 102-99 victory in Kyrie Irving's homecoming.
Hayward, the former Utah Jazz star who signed a four-year deal with the Celtics worth US$128 million (S$173.3 million) in the offseason, was stretchered off the court following a horrific injury that stunned players on both clubs.
He landed hard 5min 15sec into the game after a leaping cut to the basket trying to catch an alley-oop pass from Irving, the former Cavaliers point guard who asked in the offseason to be traded and was sent to Boston.
Cleveland superstar LeBron James tried to break up the play.
Hayward, 27, was caught in the air and when he landed, his left leg twisted unnaturally, his ankle turned at a grotesque angle.
Boston teammates huddled, clearly shocked at the mishap, and the Cavaliers were taken aback as well, their home arena falling silent as doctors began examining the forward.
A standing ovation followed when Hayward was stretchered off with his left leg immobilised from foot to thigh, sitting up on the stretcher as he was carried off.
After he was examined by medical staff of both teams, the Celtics said he had been diagnosed with a broken ankle and would be flown back to Boston after the game.
The injury cast a pall on the much-anticipated start to the NBA's 72nd season.
The pre-game spotlight focused on Irving and his return to Cleveland after being sent to Boston for Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas and forward Jae Crowder, joining Cleveland's other new faces, former NBA Most Valuable Players Derrick Rose and Dwyane Wade.
Irving praised Boston as "a real live sports city" but left the impression he did not feel the same about Cleveland, which did not help his reception in his return as Cleveland fans booed Irving's introduction and every time he touched the ball in the early going, including when he lofted a shot over James for the season's first basket.
The Cavaliers led 54-38 at half-time and stretched the lead as large as 61-43 just 2min 3sec into the third quarter on a Kevin Love free throw.
But the Celtics battled back, a Marcus Smart layup giving then a 71-69 lead, Boston's first since 17-15, only for a Rose three-pointer to put Cleveland up 72-71 entering the fourth quarter.
Boston led 98-95 but Love sank two free throws, James followed with a layup and then assisted on a three-pointer by Love that gave the Cavaliers a 102-98 lead.
Irving made a free throw to pull Boston within the final margin, but he drove to the hoop against Rose and missed a shot that James rebounded.
A final Cleveland miss gave Boston one last chance to draw level but Irving missed a three-pointer at the buzzer.
After the miss, Irving shared a hug with James and was greeted by other Cavaliers players.