BOSTON (CBS) — Gordon Hayward is back to playing basketball.
There were plenty signs of rust as the Celtics forward hit the floor in a pair of preseason games over the weekend, his first game action since last year’s devastating ankle injury that ended his first season in Boston just five minutes into opening night. As expected after such a lengthy rehab and layoff, Hayward has struggled to hit shots, going just 3-for-14 from the floor in two contests against the Charlotte Hornets.
After scoring 10 points on 2-for-7 shooting in Boston’s preseason opener on Friday, Hayward was just 1-for-7 on Sunday night, finishing the C’s 115-112 win at TD Garden with four points. He’s hit just one of his seven attempts from downtown.
But if there is a positive to take from those those poor shooting numbers, it’s that Hayward has shown very little hesitation on the offensive end. He’s moving well with and without the ball, tallying three assists on Sunday night, and he pulled down four rebounds as well. Eventually, those shots are going to fall for Hayward (it also helps that Boston has plenty of other scoring options while Hayward irons out those wrinkles).
Hayward has also been extremely aggressive on the defensive end, which earned him five fouls before halftime on Sunday night. But it was that side of the floor that provided Hayward’s best highlight, and a sure sign that the forward is nearly all the way back from last year’s injury.
In the third quarter, Charlotte’s Jeremy Lamb read a pass to Hayward perfectly and jumped the lane for an easy steal. Lamb raced out in transition, slowed only by an overzealous Jaylen Brown who overran Lamb but forced him to recollect himself at the free throw line. That brief moment was all Hayward needed to catch up to Lamb, and deliver a giant shot of confidence to his comeback.
As Lamb went up for what he thought was an easy layup, Hayward raced in from behind and sent the ball soaring for a chasedown block. Hayward called it an instinctive play after the game and admitted that he wasn’t even thinking about his left leg when he lifted off for the rejection.
“Each time I do something I haven’t done it builds more confidence for me, just from a physical standpoint, that my leg is stable and is going to hold up,” Hayward said after Sunday’s win. “I haven’t had to chase down anybody like in practice or anything, so in the game setting there’s definitely things I’m doing for the first time and figuring it back out. So I think if it just happens, that’s a good thing.”
It was great to see Hayward run down the floor, rise up and make the block, all with zero hesitation. The mental aspect of his rehab had been the most difficult part, and that figured to be the same with his comeback. He appears to be calmly gliding over any hurdle that remains in his way.
As for his current shooting woes, Hayward is confident those will get solved sooner rather than later.
“I did feel a little more comfortable out there. I think it was great being in front of our own fans for the first time. That was a special feeling for me,” he said. “Obviously, I still have a lot of improve on. I think rust is there, for sure. But for me, it was Game 2 after not playing for a year, so it’ll come back.”