CLEVELAND – Gordon Hayward's face was etched in pain and shock.
Of all the juicy subplots for this hyped homecoming and a season opener between heated rivals, a serious injury to Hayward wasn't on the list.
Boston's season changed in a gruesome instant Tuesday night. Hayward, one of the new Celtics who was going to help them close the gap on Cleveland, broke his left ankle just five minutes into his debut, and Boston was beaten 102-99 on Tuesday night by LeBron James and the Cavaliers.
Hayward's horrific injury overshadowed Kyrie Irving's return to Cleveland and re-directed Boston's immediate future and potential.
After the 27-year-old was wheeled from Quicken Loans Arena on a stretcher, offering a thumbs-up on his way to the ambulance, the Celtics rallied but came up short.
"You hurt for him," Celtics coach Brad Stevens said of Hayward, his former star at Butler. "It's a tough, tough deal, but I guess that's part of the risk of injury. I really feel for him."
James scored 29 points — 13 in the fourth quarter — in his most extensive action in three weeks because of a sprained left ankle. The superstar also fed Kevin Love for a critical three-pointer with 46.3 seconds left to put the Cavs up 102-98.
Irving, who asked to be traded this summer after six seasons in Cleveland, had a chance to tie it with a three-pointer at the horn but his shot was short. As the crowd exhaled, Irving shared a warm handshake and embrace with James, his teammate for three seasons and the one he wanted to get away from by demanding a trade this summer.
Jaylen Brown scored 25 and Irving 22 and 10 assists for the Celtics, who overcame an 18-point deficit in the third and led with 2:04 left.
Hayward was bumped by James while trying to catch an alley-oop pass with 6:45 left in the first quarter. The forward's leg got twisted underneath him as he came back to the floor and snapped his ankle grotesquely, his foot pointing awkwardly to the wrong side.
The 27-year-old sat up, looked at his foot and yelled while some players covered their mouths and others turned their heads.