It took less than six minutes for Gordon Hayward's season to likely end. Six minutes for the Boston Celtics' hopes of unseating the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference to all but vanish. One slight collision, one awkward landing and it was all gone.
Then the Celtics and Cavaliers had to return to basketball.
Kyrie Irving, playing in his first game against the Cavaliers after an offseason trade to Boston, missed a game-tying three-pointer as time expired with James' outstretched arm in his face.
The result nevertheless seemed mostly irrelevant in the aftermath of Hayward's injury.
Hayward, making his debut with the Celtics after signing a four-year max contract this summer, toppled to the ground after making contact with Jae Crowder on a lob attempt. He landed awkwardly on his left leg, twisting it at an odd angle. Perhaps only Paul George, who broke his leg in a Team USA scrimmage, and former Louisville forward Kevin Ware have had comparable on-court injuries in recent years.
The game was delayed for an extended period as Celtics trainers and players from both teams attended to Hayward before he was stretchered off the floor. James, Dwyane Wade, Kevin Love and Isaiah Thomas all went into the locker room to offer Hayward their support following the injury.
Stevens told reporters after the game that Hayward was diagnosed with a dislocated ankle and tibia fracture.
The Celtics understandably never recovered in the first half. They shot 34 percent from the floor as a team, including a ghastly 2-of-16 from beyond the arc. Head coach Brad Stevens steadied his team coming out of the locker room, and a strong third quarter briefly gave them a lead and set the stage for a more competitive fourth quarter.
The lead changed four times in the final 12 minutes, and the teams were tied on three occasions. A James layup with 1:19 remaining gave the Cavs the lead for good, and Love hit a three off a James assist with 46 seconds left.
Irving finished with 22 points and 10 assists. The Quicken Loans Arena crowd booed Irving in pregame introductions and throughout the game when he touched the ball.
Irving requested a trade from the Cavaliers this summer, which led to him being dealt to Boston in exchange for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and two draft picks. The All-Star guard refused to delve into his reason for requesting the trade when speaking with reporters Tuesday.
"Well, guys, going forward I kind of want to put that to rest. Everyone figuring out or trying to figure out a dive into a narrative they have no idea about and probably never, ever will be divulged because it's not important.
"This was literally a decision I wanted to make solely based on my happiness and pushing my career forward. I don't want to pinpoint anything. I will never pinpoint anything because that's not what real grown-ups do. They continue to move on with their life and continue to progress. And that's what I'm going to continue to do."
Crowder had 11 points and five rebounds in his first game against his old team. Thomas will be out until at least January rehabbing a hip injury, while Zizic did not play.
The Cavs' effort depended almost entirely on the brilliance of James, who finished with 29 points, 16 rebounds and nine assists. A preseason MVP favorite seemingly for the first time in years, James seemed fully willing to shoulder the season-long load. He went 12-of-19 from the field, blocked a pair of shots and acted as the two-way fulcrum of the Cavaliers' ecosystem.
Matching him nearly shot for shot was Jaylen Brown, who for at least one night appears to have made a second-year leap. Brown finished with a team-high 25 points and six rebounds, knocking down a pair of threes and adding three steals. He scored 20 points in a game just once his entire rookie season.
The Cavs' other two additions to their starting lineup, Derrick Rose and Dywane Wade, struggled in their debuts. Rose had Cleveland's worst plus-minus at minus-7 and shot 5-of-14 on his way to 14 points. Wade, who came to the Cavaliers after reaching a buyout agreement with the Chicago Bulls, had eight points and three assists.
The Celtics and Cavs both have the Milwaukee Bucks on their schedule next. Boston hosts Milwaukee on Wednesday, and Cleveland travels to play the Bucks on Friday.