Hayward Reveals He's Returned to 5-on-5 Play
BOSTON – Gordon Hayward proclaimed Thursday afternoon that he is “basically 100 percent” healthy and revealed that he has been playing 5-on-5 basketball for the last two weeks.
Hayward, who suffered a season-ending left ankle injury on Opening Night of last season, said that he has not dealt with any mental hurdles on the court while recently participating in four 5-on-5 games at the Celtics' practice facility.
“I haven’t had any fear as far as cutting or jumping, anything like that,” Hayward stated as he spoke to media members for the first time since Dec. 15, when Boston hosted his former team, the Utah Jazz. “I think it’s just working my way back into a groove, finding the different rhythms, the timings of the game.”
The All-Star forward believes that his playing time over the last two weeks, combined with training camp and preseason play, will have him prepared to take the court for Opening Night on Oct. 16.
“Yes,” he said in regard to playing in the first game of the season, “100 percent I expect to be out there.”
Such certainty was not a guarantee after Hayward suffered a setback in May that required a second surgery.
During his rehab, Hayward began to experience irritation on the outside of the injured ankle. It was determined in late-May that the hardware in the ankle – a plate and screws – needed to be removed. Successful surgery was performed May 30.
That moment was just one of many that left Hayward questioning if, rather than when, he would ever return to the court at full strength.
“I’ve told multiple people the hardest part of this whole process has been the mental challenge,” Hayward said. He later added, “Especially when it happens, there are definitely some dark days, days where you just don’t know if you’re going to be the same player. What’s on the horizon? What’s the future look like?”
It was his family, his teammates, his coaches and his fans who helped him to battle through the darkest of times. He said that small gestures from all of those people helped him along the way, including one that stood out from teammate Aron Baynes.
“I can remember Aron Baynes – I’m a big donut guy, I like donuts, that’s like my cheat food,” he admitted with a smile, “and I remember he brought Krispy Kremes back from a road trip and drove them over to the house. Just simple things like that mean a lot to me, means a lot to my family too, that people care.”
Hayward now wants to pay Baynes and everyone else back by helping to push the Celtics back into the NBA Finals.
Such is a lofty goal, but it’s one that is centered in the sights of Hayward and the C’s.
“We’re worried about winning and putting another banner up behind you,” Hayward said in response to a question about the potential of him coming off the bench. “Like I said, we have so much depth, we have so much talent. It doesn’t matter who starts to me. My goal is to help us get that banner.”
Accomplishing that goal would be a heck of a way to continue Hayward’s story, but just like during his rehab, Hayward won’t get caught up in long-term goals.
The last year of his life has been all about short-term goals and step-by-step accomplishments. Nothing will change there.
Within the last two weeks, Hayward was given full clearance to return to 5-on-5 basketball for the first time since Oct. 17. His next goal is to regain his rhythm and carry it into – and through – Opening Night.