After blowing a sure win in Game 3 by allowing O.G. Anunoby’s corner 3-pointer with 0.5 seconds remaining and, in the aftermath, allowing Toronto to maintain control of Game 4 pretty much from start-to-finish, the NBA’s conference semifinals have taken a bad turn for the Celtics. Boston could use some good news.
And here it is: forward Gordon Hayward is headed back to the bubble. After suffering a bad Grade III ankle sprain on August 17, in the Celtics’ playoff opener against Philadelphia, Hayward left Orlando to rehab his injury. He will be back on the sidelines for at least part of the Toronto series, but first must complete a four-day quarantine.
Coach Brad Stevens made that announcement ahead of the Celtics’ Game 4 dud.
While that is obviously a good thing, it should be tempered by the fact that Hayward is also not going to be in green-and-white against the Raptors. The original timeframe for his recovery was a month and he is only 20 days into that.
“He’s not gonna play any time soon,” Stevens said.
Marcus Smart Has Been Inconsistent Replacing Gordon Hayward
In the first two games of the Raptors series, the Celtics did not appear to miss Hayward all that much—and not for the first 47 minutes, 59½ seconds of Game 3, for that matter.
The Celtics moved Marcus Smart into the starting five to replace Hayward and while Smart was brilliant in the first two games, his chronic offensive inconsistency showed up in Games 3 and 4. After scoring 40 total points on 12-for-23 shooting (11-for-20 from the 3-point line) in the first two games, Smart has gone 6-for-23 from the field and 3-for-15 from the 3-point line since. He has scored just 19 points.
That has also put more pressure on the Celtics’ bench, which has played well as a group but has not provided much offensive punch or much relief for Boston’s worn-down starters. Three Celtics—Jayson Tatum, Kemba Walker and Smart—played 40-plus minutes in Game 4.
Hayward Can’t Return Until Conference Finals
Hayward’s return would be good medicine for the Celtics, but as Stevens said, he won’t be on the court in this series. A potential Game 7 would come on September 11, and if Boston can stop its slump and rally into the conference finals, Hayward would probably not be ready for the start of that series, either.
That means more is needed from Smart, who is accustomed to the quick transition from sixth man to starter as the Celtics have clawed through injuries for the past two seasons. Smart, expected to be the bench anchor, has started 100 of the 140 games he played the past two seasons.
“[My mentality] is the same, my role is different, starting and coming off the bench, but energy-wise it’s the same,” Smart said last month when Hayward was injured, according to the Boston Globe. “Starting doesn’t require me to really be more of an offensive threat. So I can spend most of my energy on the defensive, as opposed to coming off the bench I have to be a little more assertive.”