CLEVELAND — The immediate reactions varied from players turning and covering their eyes in horror to courtside fans with hands over their agape mouths pointing in shock about what just unfolded before them.
Just five minutes and fifteen seconds into his career as a member of the Boston Celtics, forward Gordon Hayward went up on the receiving end of an alley-oop, drew contact and landed awkwardly below the rim. Hayward's momentum forced his left ankle to snap, his foot ultimately resting at what appeared to be a 90-degree angle to his left as he looked on in fear.
Jeff Green, one of the players on the Cavaliers bench—which had a front-row seat for the sequence of events—was one of the most animated, completely leaving his seat to head toward the team's tunnel.
"I was hoping I didn't see what I saw," Green told Bleacher Report. "It was gruesome. I didn't expect to see that when he rolled and turned our way. I thought it was his lower back or his ass or something. You never wish injury on anyone, especially such a good player like that."
Play continued for a brief moment but was blown dead once the injury became apparent. As Hayward laid underneath the Cavaliers' basket, members of the Celtics training staff sprinted to his attention. Security members within Quicken Loans Arena surrounded the forward to shield him from view. The arena was silent. Cavs guard Dwyane Wade took a knee at midcourt before joining LeBron James and teammate Isaiah Thomas in consoling their injured opponent.
James and Thomas would follow Hayward into the Cavaliers' locker room as he was taken off the floor on a stretcher, his leg immobilized.
The diagnosis: a dislocated ankle and a fractured tibia, according to Boston head coach Brad Stevens. When asked what was going through his mind, James, one of the closest players to the action, was succinct.
"A lot," James said. "I've seen a couple injuries like that in my lifetime. Paul George, when [a similar injury] happened to Paul. I was watching the game with Shaun Livingston when he was with the Clippers. And I was watching NCAA basketball with Kevin Ware when he was at Louisville.
"Those are injuries that you never see coming, that you never want to happen no matter who it is, no matter how much competitive nature you have. It's very unfortunate."
In the coming days, there will be plenty of analysis about where the Celtics go from here. Can a Kyrie Irving-led team—sans Hayward—compete with the Cavs? Furthermore, what is this group's ceiling as is in a top-heavy Eastern Conference?
But in the moment, members of the Cavaliers, who eventually will be forced to consider the ramifications of Hayward's injury from a basketball standpoint, showed nothing but sympathy for a fellow competitor.
Cavaliers power forward Kevin Love, who was seated next to Green during the play, went from resting his elbows on his knees to grabbing his own leg as if it were in phantom pain, turning 180 degrees toward the Quicken Loans Arena crowd.
"It's sad," Love added. "You see someone go down like that. It was ugly. It wasn't pretty. You can just hope for the best as he recovers."
“This is a competitive game," Wade said. "We all compete. But it’s a brotherhood at the end of the day, and no one wants to see that at all."
As far as a timetable for Hayward's return, nothing has been announced as of yet. But Jeff Stotts of In Street Clothes offers a bit of perspective.
"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," Stotts wrote. "The injury occurred in practice and wasn’t televised but the scene was reported as 'gruesome.'"
"Gruesome," if you recall, is exactly how Green described Hayward's injury.
Randolph missed the remaining 68 games that year, per Stotts.
As far as Hayward's spirit goes, it's understandable that Celtics head coach Brad Stevens could only answer "down" when asked about it after the game. But if the All-Star can find solace in anything at the moment, it might be that the NBA community is pulling for him—even his newest rivals.
"It was very difficult," Cavs head coach Tyronn Lue said following the game. "Even though he's on the opposing team, we're still a fraternity, and we're still brothers.
"He's been a great player in this league, an All-Star, and a model citizen as far as the NBA is concerned. We wish him well."
All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.