NBA Rumor: Gordon Hayward Injury

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Gordon Hayward returning for Game 3?

Barring a setback in pregame warmups, there’s significant optimism within the Boston Celtics that forward Gordon Hayward will make a return to the lineup for Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Miami Heat on Saturday night, sources told ESPN. Hayward has missed a month with a right ankle sprain, but has progressed in recent days to the cusp of a return on Saturday with the Celtics trailing the Heat 2-0 in the best-of-seven series.

If Hayward returns, Boston could play its five best players — Walker, Smart, Brown, Hayward, Tatum — in a centerless alignment that might help on the other end too. Alternatively, Robert Williams III, whom Stevens benched in Game 2, could lurk as a lob threat behind the zone. If Miami unleashes three-quarter pressure as a prelude to its zone, Boston can try to spring Walker with picks at half-court — giving him a runway to bust the zone before Miami locks it in. (The Celtics tried this a few times.)


The former All-Star wing was having a resurgent season when a grade III right ankle sprain knocked him out of the playoff opener against Philadelphia. The Celtics gave him a four-week timetable to return to basketball activities, which would be borderline unprecedented for a grade III sprain. The four-week mark comes just ahead of Game 2 of the Conference final, but it doesn’t sound like Hayward is close to hitting that mark. “He did a couple of non-contact, very light drills,” coach Brad Stevens said. “He’s out there doing individual work right now, but none of that stuff with any groups.”

Gordon Hayward returned to the bubble earlier this week after suffering a Grade 3 ankle sprain in round one against the Philadelphia 76ers. The forward cleared quarantine Friday afternoon, which allowed him to get shots up with the Celtics staff prior to the tip-off of Game 7. Stevens was asked about Hayward’s status following the team’s series-clinching win. “I think he’ll be back at some point in that series (vs. Miami),” Stevens said. “But I don’t know when.”

Sources told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Malika Andrews after the game that Hayward would be getting an MRI on his ankle later Monday to determine the severity of the injury. Hayward, who scored 12 points on 5-for-13 shooting with 4 rebounds, 3 assists and 4 steals in 34 minutes, was trying to box out Sixers star Joel Embiid inside with about 3½ minutes to go in the fourth quarter when his right foot got twisted and he went down to the floor in a heap.

For a player who noted soreness in his surgically repaired left ankle at the beginning of the NBA’s return to play program in June, the Celtics will certainly proceed with an abundance of caution. Hayward prefers to play without an ankle brace on, but there is a good chance that is going to change once he eventually makes it back on the floor. But considering he is already planning to depart the bubble to attend the birth of his son at some point in mid-September, the Celtics may have to plan on a playoff run without him.

The four week return would be much earlier than the initial six week prognosis, which is partly because of quick healing, and partly by design. “I think as it’s steadily improving and can do more and more, you start to think coming back a little bit earlier,” Hayward said. “I think you set the timeline a little bit later than what you’re hoping for just so that you guys and everyone else isn’t like, ‘If you’re late like, what’s the deal?’”

Hayward added that he expects to be dealing with effects from the injury throughout the season. “It’s definitely something where, hopefully not the rest of the season, but certainly a lengthy part of the season, I’m going to have to continue to get treatment, continue to ice it and kind of manage some of the symptoms,” Hayward said. “I don’t want it to get hit again, but I’m sure it will get hit again, and when that happens it’ll be sore. So I’ll manage that. But it’ll be something I deal with for the rest of the year.”

The initial Celtics timetable had Hayward projected to return six weeks after the surgery just ahead of Christmas and there has been no adjustment to that plan as of now. “It’s still hard to say exactly,” Hayward admitted when asked about a return plan. “But we have some good days here at home where I can practice and really do the things I want to do and kind of feel it out and see how it responds. I did a lot on it today, so I think it’s going to be more sore. It might swell up, so hopefully as soon as I’m done here go ice it and get some of the swelling down and kind of just take it day by day.”

On Tuesday, Hayward practiced with the team — stepping aside for live run to be an official, according to Brad Stevens — but he did something resembling contact drills with Celtics coaches. “I played a little kind of like hybrid contact today with coaches and stuff,” Hayward told reporters. “It’s definitely sore and I think that’s something I’ve got to work through. I’ve got to work through that to make my hand stronger, and hopefully over the next couple of days I can do that and get it kind of more the same strength of my right hand. I think it’s going to be a little while, and plus I was right-hand dominant anyway. So it’s definitely going to probably not be the exact same, but get it more strengthened so the percentage is closer to my right.”

“It’s a drop in a bucket, for sure,” said Hayward, meeting with reporters before Wednesday’s game against the Washington Wizards. “Like I said, happy that it shouldn’t be that long. Obviously frustrated — it sucks watching and not being able to go out there and play, especially with the start that we’ve had. I think this time around, I’ll be able to run around, use my legs still, maintain my conditioning, which I’m very thrilled about and then be around the team, too. And kinda stay involved, which is good.”
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January 24, 2021 | 8:39 pm EST Update