BOSTON (CBS) — It’s been a long road back for Gordon Hayward, but the end is in sight.
It was just over nine months ago that Hayward suffered a gruesome injury on opening night, dislocating his left ankle and fracturing his left tibia on a failed dunk attempt in Cleveland. His progress has been well-documented, from his first baby steps to picking up marbles with his toes.
He’s come a long way since those days, and can run at full speed in a straight line and come to a stop. He’s also doing some lateral movement, one of the biggest steps he can make in his recovery. He’s doing all of that without any pain, which is the most important part of it all.
He also revealed that he is dunking the basketball again.
“I dunked the basketball for the first time off my left foot without pain last week,” Hayward told the Boston Globe Thursday night in Boston. “That felt awesome. I went into it very soft and gingerly, and after I did it, I was like, ‘OK, that didn’t hurt it all.’ I did it again, and it felt good.”
Nine months may seem like a long time to dunk again, but it just goes to illustrate just how far away Hayward was when people were hoping for a postseason return. Hayward hasn’t even played any 5-on-5 ball yet, but he hopes to do so next month.
“Leading up to doing something new, I think I’m anxious and nervous a little bit, and, subconsciously, I think a little scared,” he said. “A lot of times when I do something new, I think I like to just protect [my ankle], and I don’t go as hard as I probably could. After I do something a couple times, my brain and my body kind of tells me, ‘OK, it’s fine. You can do this again.’ The bone is strong, everything is strong, and then it takes a little bit, but then it’s kind of normal.”
Hayward says that one aspect of his game that has certainly improved over this lengthy recovery is his shooting.
“I spent so many days just shooting out of a chair, or so many days standing and shooting or doing mini-jumping and shooting because that’s all I could do. I do think my shot’s got a little bit quicker,” he said. “There will still be a little bit of the transition period for me, as I go from doing drills that are rehearsed to playing live. That’s just like a timing thing. I just have to play again for a little bit, but I really do think my shot has improved.”
Hayward’s recovery hit a bit of a bump when he had to undergo a second surgery in May to remove hardware in his surgically repaired ankle, but he’s confident that he’ll be on the floor when the Celtics open the 2018-19 season in October.
“I’ll be ready to go for sure,” Hayward told ESPN. “Since I’ve had my second surgery, I’ve been feeling a lot better. My ankle has reacted a lot better to different drills, strength movements and different things I’ve done on it, so the next step is go live and play against other people. Instead of just doing rehearse drills, I’m doing reactive drills. It’s doing a lot better.”
“I’m sure before the first game, I’ll be really anxious and nervous,” Hayward told the Globe. “I don’t really know what I’ll expect emotionally, but I’m sure it’ll be a lot of adrenaline pumping for the first couple minutes, and, once I get out there in the flow of the game, it’ll be fun. But I know leading up to it, I’ll definitely be a little nervous.”
After missing all of last season, and watching an injury depleted Celtics squad make it all the way to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals, Hayward is anxious to see what kind of noise the C’s can make next season. They are essentially bringing back that 2017-18 squad, with a healthy Hayward and Kyrie Irving back in the mix.