Gordon Hayward is back in the NBA bubble in central Florida and back on the practice floor for the Celtics. But one place he will not be on Tuesday night: on the floor for the Celtics’ Eastern Conference finals Game 1 matchup against the Heat.
That is a big blow for Boston, who hoped to have Hayward back as quickly as possible after he suffered an ankle injury in the opening game of the Celtics’ postseason against Philadelphia. The Celtics swept that series but had to grind through a difficult series against the Raptors, which went seven games. Boston’s offense stalled against a tough Toronto defense, failing to hit the 100-point mark twice. That only happened to the Celtics nine times in 72 games in the regular season.
All signs had pointed to Hayward not playing in Game 1, but there was still some hope that he might make drastic improvement or that the Celtics were bluffing about his status. On Monday evening, though, they confirmed it.
Javonte Green (right knee surgery) – DOUBTFUL
Gordon Hayward (right ankle sprain) – OUT
— Boston Celtics (@celtics) September 14, 2020
Hayward suffered a nasty Grade III ankle injury in Game 1 against the Sixers, back on August 18. The original timeline for his return was four weeks and Tuesday, the start of the Heat-Celtics series, marks Day 28 of Hayward’s recovery.
Brad Stevens on Hayward: ‘He’s Getting Better’
After practice on Monday, Celtics coach Brad Stevens said that a decision on Hayward was in the hands of the team’s medical staff.
“He did not go through a normal practice,” Stevens said. “He went through a hard what we call our small-group workouts, after practice. So, he looked good when he was going through it, but there’s a big difference between doing that and actually getting into a game. I don’t know what that means officially as we move forward, but he’s getting better.”
— Celtics on NBC Sports Boston (@NBCSCeltics) September 14, 2020
He might not be getting better on a schedule that is going to help the Celtics, however. With the league playing a bubble schedule, and no travel required, the teams will play every other day—Game 2 is Tuesday and Game 3 is Saturday.
Hayward, presumably, will still have some rust to work through when he does get back. If he is not healthy by this weekend, the Celtics will be in a difficult position, playing critical late-series games while unsure of how effective Hayward can be against Miami even if he is able to play.
Marcus Smart Getting Chance to Shine in Starting Five
Without Hayward available, the Celtics moved Marcus Smart into the starting five and he wound up playing a critical role in Boston’s wins over Toronto—and had a hand in the losses. Smart was brilliant in the first two games, but 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 went gone 6-for-23 from the field and 3-for-15 from the 3-point line in the next two games, scoring just 19 points.
He regained his footing to close the series, averaging 17.0 points, 6.7 rebounds and 7.3 assists, shooting 44.7% in the final three games—and closing out the Raptors with an important blocked shot on a layup attempt late in Game 7.
Still, it would be a luxury for the Celtics to be able to pull Smart off the bench in a series against Miami, especially to be used as a defensive weapon against star guard Jimmy Butler.
As Smart said earlier in the summer, he will be ready either way.
“[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.”