SAN ANTONIO — All was going so well for Gordon Hayward. He was a few days removed from a career-high tying 39 points, in the middle of his most comfortable and productive stretch as a Celtic.
He was pursuing a driving Dejounte Murray with 1:34 left in the second period when he reached out and then smashed his left hand against LaMarcus Aldridge sliding into a late screen. Hayward’s momentum carried him into Aldridge again and his left arm was caught in between.
He walked away shaking the hand as Aldridge argued the offensive foul call. Hayward walked immediately to the locker room and X-rays revealed a fractured left hand.
According to agent Mark Bartelstein and Celtics coach Brad Stevens, Hayward’s next move is to see a hand specialist on Monday and determine if surgery is needed. There is no timetable for his return but it’s expected to be several weeks before he plays again.
The injury overshadowed an impressive 135-115 win over the Spurs, Stevens’s first at AT&T Center and the Celtics first here in eight years.
“Sounds like should he decide [on surgery], the option might actually be a better timeline,” Stevens said. “We’ll see what that all plays out to be. Who knows? It’s too bad.”
Hayward entered Saturday’s game averaging 20.3 points per game and was in his best stretch since signing with the Celtics in July 2017. He missed all but five minutes of his first season with a fractured left tibia sustained in his first game. He spent last season trying to recover mentally and physically, enduring ups and downs in averaging 11.5 points, the lowest since his rookie season.
But he responded this year with increased athleticism and confidence, scoring on his customary midrange jumpers and step-back floaters. He was the primary reason the Celtics had won six consecutive games after losing the opener at Philadelphia.
“It’s tough, obviously he’s been through a lot with his old injury and now this,” point guard Kemba Walker said. “It’s always hard to see one of your brothers go down. We’re definitely going to miss him but now we need guys to step up.”
Asked about his reaction to the injury, Walker said “I was pissed. I didn’t say anything. I was really in shock. It’s kind of hard to even say anything. You don’t even know what to say sometimes. We’re going to miss him for the time that he’s out.”
Hayward didn’t talk with reporters after the game but he was seen with a cast on his left hand as he ate dinner postgame.
It was a physical game, with Marcus Smart taking a shot to the groin and Jaylen Brown getting elbowed in the head. But the Celtics responded from an early 7-0 deficit and led for the final 43:52 of the game.
San Antonio had been a house of horrors for Stevens, who had never won here and had been 1-11 against the Spurs overall. Jaylen Brown, who missed three games with an infection before returning Thursday, scored a season-high 30 points on 10-for-18 shooting.
Brown also scored 30 points in a Celtics’ loss at AT&T Center on Dec. 31, 2018.
“We played good basketball and I think we can even tap into another level that we’ll continue to get better,” he said. “I just think different role, more opportunity. I keep preaching that. I don’t think I had the same opportunity last year. I guess people judge you off the role you’re in but it’s a different team, different year, different opportunity, different responsibility and I’m taking advantage of it.”
The Spurs spent the evening trying to make runs but the Celtics answered every response. Walker added 26 points with Jayson Tatum adding 19 and Marcus Smart 16, including four first-half 3-pointers.
Yet the Celtics’ defensive effort against Aldridge overshadowed an impressive night by the offense. Aldridge totaled 80 points in two games against the Celtics last year, including 48 on March 24 at TD Garden. He finished with 3 points on 1-for-4 shooting, his lone basket a tip-in at the buzzer to end the third quarter.
Popovich was so frustrated in the early going he used two timeouts in the first 5:06 and then made a hockey shift after the second timeout, replacing all five starters.
“Boston is a talented group; Brad does a great job with them,” Popovich said. “They’ve been together for a little bit now. They’re playing with aggressiveness and unselfishness that’s top order. I thought it would be a great night just to go compete against a talented team like that, that’s going to be contending in the East, but we really didn’t look like that.”
Robert Williams may have had something to do with that. He turned in his best game as pro, finishing with 11 points, 7 rebounds, and 6 blocked shots. In one fourth-quarter sequence, Williams helped out on Bryn Forbes, blocked his 3-point attempt, gathered the ball and sparked a fast break with Javonte Green finishing with a jam that wowed the crowd.
“I feel confident,” Williams said. “I feel like it’s a great thing that we’re doing this year is instilling confidence in each other. I feel like I have to be a great defensive presence, be more vocal on that end of the court and take pride on that end.”
Gary Washburn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.