In Saturday’s critical win over the Miami Heat in the NBA’s Eastern Conference finals, Celtics forward Gordon Hayward did not post a jaw-dropping statistical line—he had six points, five rebounds and four assists with three steals—but his presence certainly was a boost for a Boston team badly in need of some positive energy after a downer in Game 2.
Turns out, the return of Hayward came with some added good news, at least from a Celtics angle. He had originally planned to leave the NBA’s anti-COVID-19 bubble environment to attend to his wife, Robyn, when she was ready to give birth this month to the couple’s fifth child, but has since decided to remain with the team in Orlando during the playoffs. Having to go back home to Indiana for rehab swayed him into making the choice to stay with the Celtics.
“I think that obviously wasn’t in the plan, getting injured and going back to Indianapolis for treatment,” Hayward said in his postgame news conference on Saturday. “Obviously, I think, a little lucky that Robyn was there in Indy so I got a chance to be at home and get great treatment. But that wasn’t in the plan.”
Hayward said the deciding point was the fact that no amount of hurrying out of the bubble would necessarily get him back home in time for the birth.
“Robyn could be having a baby at any point in time,” Hayward said. “So I think it is probably something that, I’ll be here. By the time I get back, I might miss the birth if she goes in and rushes into the hospital. We discussed it, we prayed about it. I think it is probably best if I stay here and help our team.”
Before Game 3, Robyn Hayward tried to set the record straight with an Instagram message.
Gordon Hayward Injured Ankle in Playoff Opener
Hayward has been out since the first game of the NBA playoffs with a Grade III ankle sprain. That came on August 17, and he has spent most of his time since then outside the bubble, rehabbing at home. The Celtics managed to win two playoff rounds without him but, in the conference finals, found themselves lacking the kind of versatility and offensive punch that Hayward can bring.
The Heat won the first two games of the series, coming from behind in both games to topple a Celtics bunch that seemed to forget how to close out a win.
Even with Hayward making only a so-so contribution for the Celtics off the bench, his presence was welcome for Boston. During the season, he averaged 17.5 points, 6.7 rebounds and 4.1 assists, shooting 50.0% from the field.
The Celtics have a thin group of reserves, getting 17.9 points per game from the backups in the playoffs, which ranks 14th of the 16 teams in the postseason. The only two teams who have had less-productive benches, the Sixers and the Pacers, were swept out of the playoffs in the first round.
“Definitely felt weird out there,” Hayward said. “It’s been four or five weeks or whatever since I played basketball. I think it was really fun to be back out there with the team, with the guys. I just tried to impact our team in winning ways, whatever I could do. The first five minutes, I was gassed, I am extremely tired right now. My ankle is pretty sore. But just proud of the way we fought, proud of us getting the win”.
Gordon Hayward: Return, Rehab Part of ‘Daunting Task’
The return to action marked the end of a strange and whirlwind five weeks for Gordon, nursing a badly injured ankle as he watched the goings-on in the bubble from afar—the player boycott in late August, the ousting of the top-seeded Bucks from the postseason, his own team’s grinding, seven-game win over Toronto in the conference semifinals.
All that was happening as his wife was moving closer to giving birth again.
“This has been something I’ve never dealt with, as far as all of it together,” Hayward said. “There’s a lot that’s going on for me individually and for my family. And then the rehab, with corona and the bubble and trying to do the best that I can not to have to quarantine for that many days. Coming back here and having to quarantine, basically take five days off from treatment and rehab and then trying to get myself ready to play in the Eastern Conference finals, that’s something that is a daunting task for sure.”
The tumult was part of the reason Hayward decided to simply settle into his situation in Orlando and, if necessary, meet his son after the birth. The Celtics will have his focus now. With three days off before Game 4, Hayward should have some time to get back in game shape, which was a problem in Game 3.
“I haven’t had really an opportunity to get going,” Hayward said. “So I think I am definitely not 100% but it kind of just is what it is, we’re in the Eastern Conference finals. And so I’m going to give us whatever I can. As we keep going, I’ll find my rhythm and be better and better. That’s the plan, at least.”