BOSTON (CBS) — Gordon Hayward is back for the Celtics, and he won’t be leaving the NBA bubble in Orlando until the team is done playing basketball.
After missing a month with a sprained ankle, Hayward returned to the Boston lineup Saturday night for Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Miami Heat. He played 31 minutes off the Boston bench in Game 3, scoring six points off 2-for-7 shooting while pulling down five rebounds and dishing out four assists. His return helped a Boston offense that had struggled against Miami’s zone defense, leading to the Celtics blowing big leads in Games 1 and 2.
That was not the case Saturday night, as the Celtics emerged victorious 117-106 to make it a 2-1 series. Hayward admitted that he was gassed and his ankle felt a bit sore after the game, the first time he’s played in over a month, but thinks he’ll find his rhythm soon. Until then, he’s going to do anything he can to help the Celtics reach their ultimate goal.
“I’m definitely not 100 percent but it is what it is. It’s the conference finals and I’m going to give us whatever I can,” he said after Saturday’s won.
That includes missing out on the birth of his fourth child — and first son — in the coming days. Hayward had said before the playoffs that he would leave the bubble for the birth, but after the win he confirmed ESPN’s Rachel Nichols mid-game report that he will remain with the team for the rest of the postseason.
“That obviously wasn’t in the plan, getting injured and going back to Indianapolis for treatment. I trust those guys with everything there, and I guess I’m a little bit lucky Robyn was already in Indy, so I got a chance to be at home and get great treatment,” he said.
“Robyn could be having a baby at any point in time, so it’s probably something I’ll be here and by the time I get back I might miss the birth if she rushes into the hospital. We discussed it and we prayed about it, and I think it’s best if I stay here and help out team,” said Hayward.
Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said he was unaware that Hayward would be sticking around, and said he’d support whatever decision his player makes.
“If he wants to go back for the birth of his child, that takes priority,” said Stevens. “That’s his decision. I’ll leave it at that. It’s his decision.”
Hayward’s wife, Robyn, could go into labor at any time, so Hayward will certainly be keeping an eye on his phone over the next few days.
Boston’s versatile forward didn’t light up the scoreboard on Saturday, but he made a big difference for everyone else. His passing was as crisp as ever, as he got on the scoresheet with a beautiful pass to Daniel Theis for an easy dunk shortly after checking in. The Celtics’ ball movement was stagnant late in the first two games, but it was strong throughout Game 3. His teammates said Hayward was a big help in that department.
“Gordon was great, welcome back,” said Jaylen Brown. “Just having an extra body, a guy who can make plays, was huge for us. He’s only going to continue to go up.”
“It meant everything,” Jayson Tatum said of Hayward’s return. “We’re so much better, more dynamic when he’s out there. So much more versatile. He played great in his first game and he’s going to continue to get better. To have him back was everything.”
Hayward will now have three days to keep working to 100 percent — and watch his phone — with Game 4 set for Wednesday night,