The margin of victory in Game 1 of the NBA Eastern Conference finals between the Heat and the Celtics was razor-thin. Boston led for the bulk of the game and went into the fourth quarter with a 12-point lead, a scenario that almost certainly should have led to a win.
But Miami was able to pull back to the Celtics and force an overtime period, in which they were able to seal a win only when center Bam Adebayo blocked the dunk attempt of Boston star Jayson Tatum with 2.5 seconds remaining.
If ever there was a time when Boston missed the injured Gordon Hayward, it was during the tense closing minutes of that game, especially as Tatum, the team’s top scorer, closed out in a 2-for-10 slump in the fourth quarter and overtime.
But the Celtics are still not sure where they stand with Hayward as he attempts to come back from the Grade III sprained ankle he suffered in Boston’s postseason opener against Philadelphia last month.
“I have no real update on him,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens told reporters on Wednesday.
But there is a plan. Hayward will go through a workout with Boston’s medical staff and trainers later in the day and, based on how that workout goes, the Celtics should know more about whether Hayward will be available for Game 2.
Gordon Hayward Suffered Ankle Injury 4 Weeks Ago
Hayward has been out since August 18 with the ankle injury. Tuesday’s Game 1 was played on September 15, exactly four weeks after Hayward suffered the injury. The original timetable for Hayward’s return was four weeks.
The farther the Celtics get from that projected return date, the less production they may get from Hayward in his return. Presumably, Hayward will have some rust in his game left over from not playing in more than a month. It will be a challenge for Stevens to work him into the rotation if he is not completely up to speed while fighting for critical wins in the series.
Marcus Smart Has Started in Place of Hayward
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, scoring 40 total points on 12-for-23 shooting (11-for-20 from the 3-point line). Smart went 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 Raptors 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.
Smart was outstanding to start the series against the Heat, scoring 26 points, making 6-of-13 from the 3-point line, and helping limit Heat star Jimmy Butler to 20 points.
Still, it would be a luxury for the Celtics to be able to pull Smart off the bench in a series against Miami. 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.”