BOSTON (AP) — Celtics forward Gordon Hayward started Monday night against the Cleveland Cavaliers and scored 14 points, returning to the Boston lineup ahead of schedule in his return from a broken hand.
Hayward received a loud ovation when he was introduced and got his first basket on a fast-break layup nearly halfway into the opening quarter. He also grabbed his first rebound and had his initial assist on Jayson Tatum’s 3-pointer from the left wing in the first 4 1/2 minutes of action.
Hayward finished with five rebounds and four assists in 26 minutes as Boston beat the struggling Cavaliers 110-88.
Celtics coach Brad Stevens said during his pregame media session that Hayward wasn’t on any minutes restriction but expects him to need time to build up his stamina.
“There’s no set time. But any time you’re coming back not having played an NBA game for four weeks, you just manage it appropriately,” Stevens said. “He’s done a good job of staying in shape and he’s worked hard at that. But it will hit him early.”
Stevens figured his star forward will fit right into his old role with his teammates.
“One thing that Gordon is, is he’s easy to play with,” the coach said. “He’s going to make the right play. He’ll be another threat on the court. We’ll be able to play through him some with both groups and he’ll be able to play off the ball. He should be able to complement those guys well.”
After the team’s morning shootaround, Stevens had said Hayward was able to participate fully in the practice and would go through the pregame walkthrough “with the intention of playing.” About two hours before tipoff, the team announced that he would be available.
“It’s always good to get good players back,” Stevens said at the team’s practice facility. “We’re hopeful that he’ll be able to play.”
Hayward broke a bone in his left hand Nov. 9 and was expected to miss about six weeks. But he said this weekend that the bone is healed and — thanks to a plate with screws — might even be stronger than it was before.
“The bone is healed. I can’t hurt it worse,” Hayward said on Sunday, adding that the soft tissue is sore and the motion and strength are limited. “It’s whether or not you can play through that and still be effective. That’s kind of what we’re determining. But the bone is healed.”
Hayward missed all but five minutes of the 2017-18 season with a broken leg. He had finally returned to his pre-injury form, averaging 19 points, four assists and a career-high seven rebounds this year before breaking the hand.
Stevens said Hayward’s availability for the start of a series of three games in four nights would be helpful because guard Marcus Smart was ruled out with an eye infection. Forward Robert Williams will also be sidelined with left hip soreness.
Boston guard Kemba Walker said he was excited to have Hayward back.
“He was playing really well before he got hurt. Of course we need him,” Walker said. “He is one of our best players. He’s a starter for us and averaging 20 points. That’s 20 points that we were missing.”