Celtics' Gordon Hayward excited to play again, nearly a year after suffering gruesome injury
After missing 81 games following a gruesome season-ending ankle injury in the first quarter of the first game of the 2017-18 NBA season, Boston Celtics forward Gordon Hayward is back to playing full-court, full-contact 5-on-5 basketball.
“I’m just excited to be out there,” Hayward told reporters Thursday. “It’s so much fun to be able to play again and play with my teammates."
Hayward, who has played 5-on-5, full-court hoops for the past two weeks, said he is 100%, expects to play in the season opener Oct. 16 against Philadelphia and that playing in preseason games will help him regain his explosiveness and game shape.
“The past two weeks and the next probably month or so will be good to get back into the game and feel the rhythm, the timing and things like that," Hayward said.
Last season was supposed to be special for Hayward. In free agency in the summer of 2017, he re-united with Celtics coach Brad Stevens, who coached Hayward during Butler’s memorable NCAA tournament runs; joined a storied franchise; and teamed up with Kyrie Irving, whom Boston acquired in a trade.
But that special season never materialized. Hayward’s season ended when he dislocated his ankle and fractured his tibia five minutes and 15 seconds into the first quarter against Cleveland on Oct. 17.
He needed surgery and then embarked on a long rehab journey, watching from the sidelines as the Celtics took the Cavs to seven games in the Eastern Conference finals.
"I've told multiple people that the hardest part of this whole process has been the mental challenge of having to just fight through not being able to play and do the tedious task of rehab," Hayward said. "That whole process is something I don’t hope to have to go through again. Right when it happens, there definitely are some dark days, some 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?
"Having a family helped me get through that. Having my faith helped me get through that as well. It puts things in perspective for you. You have to find the joy in the little things of the rehab. … Find some sort of happiness. Just being around the facility when the guys were in town, joking with the staff members, different things like that really kept my spirits up."
With Hayward and Irving healthy and LeBron James in the Western Conference, the Celtics are favored to win the East this season.
"Watching the guys last year just gave me a lot of confidence in our team and what I think we have the ability to do, to accomplish," Hayward said. "Playing with some of them these last two weeks, we have some talent on this team. We have a lot of depth, and it’s going to be a fun year."