Celtics

What Gordon Hayward said about his return and his status going forward in the bubble

"First five minutes, I was gassed. I'm extremely tired right now."

Gordon Hayward was sharp in his return Saturday. Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Gordon Hayward didn’t put up eye-popping stats in his return to action Saturday, but in reality, he didn’t have to.

Hayward’s presence and energy helped the Celtics earn a 117-106 win over the Miami Heat in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals. He finished with 6 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals, 2 field goals, and 1 block in 31 minutes, immediately contributing after missing five weeks due to a Grade III ankle sprain.

“First five minutes, I was gassed,” Hayward told reporters. “I’m extremely tired right now. My ankle’s pretty sore, but I’m proud of the way we fought and proud of us getting the win.”

Advertisement:

Celtics coach Brad Stevens said he thought Hayward did what he’s done all year. He may not have shot the ball quite as much as he usually does, but Stevens made it clear the Celtics are better with Hayward on the floor.

“He’s a stabilizing force for our team,” Stevens said.

Hayward entered at the 5:06 mark in the first quarter and a minute later delivered a sweet feed to Daniel Theis for a dunk. He buried a pull-up a minute after that, then he subbed out of the game after a four-plus minute stint.

The Celtics elected to go small, with their five best players on the floor, late in the second quarter. With Kemba Walker, Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, Hayward, and Tatum out there, the Celtics closed the half on a 12-2 flurry to take a 63-50 edge into the break. Once again, Hayward wasn’t as directly involved as he might be at other times, yet his presence and poise shaped the game.

Hayward drilled a 3-pointer early in the fourth to extend the lead to 18, and he entered with 1:03 remaining to help the Celtics withstand yet another furious Miami comeback.

“We’re so much better when he’s out there,” Tatum said. “So much more dynamic, so much more versatile.”

Advertisement:

Hayward also told reporters that he plans to stay in the bubble for the remainder of the NBA playoffs. If the Celtics lose the series to the Heat, it’s possible he could make it in time for the birth of his son. However, if they advance to the NBA Finals, it appears more likely than not that he’d still be with the team.

Of course Hayward is disappointed he might miss such a momentous occasion, but he said he discussed the situation with his wife, Robyn, and they decided him staying with the Celtics was the right decision.

Said Hayward: “I think it’s probably best if I stay here and help our team.”

Get Boston.com's browser alerts:

Enable breaking news notifications straight to your internet browser.

Conversation

This discussion has ended. Please join elsewhere on Boston.com