In addressing injury for first time, Hayward says he'll 'lean on' Paul George

In addressing injury for first time, Hayward says he'll 'lean on' Paul George

WALTHAM, Mass. – When Paul George went down with a broken leg injury in Team USA’s intrasquad scrimmage in 2014, Gordon Hayward was in the building.
He saw first-hand how painful such a devastating injury could be, not knowing that just a few years later he too would be at the starting block on the road to recovery following devastatingly painful injury.


And one of the more constant voices in Hayward’s ear since the opening-night injury?
That would be George, now with the Oklahoma City Thunder who will host the Celtics on Friday night.
Hayward, speaking to Boston media on Thursday for the first time since the injury, said George texted him right after the injury.
“Paul and I had a good relationship since we were drafted in the same class,” Hayward said. “I was in the gym when he did what happened to his leg. I know he knows first-hand what it’s like, what’s it gonna take to get back to 100 percent.”
George missed all but six games in the 2014-15 season, a testament to how he attacked his rehab program to do what so few thought was possible and that’s return that season.
Although Hayward said in his blog posting earlier this week that he wasn’t coming back this season, he doesn’t seem quite ready to completely shut the door on a possible late-season return.

“I’m putting zero expectations on myself as far as a timetable [to return],” Hayward said on Thursday. “For me it’s...I want to get better today. Right after this [press conference], I’m going to do some rehab and chair shooting.”
Medical officials have told Hayward that a full and complete recovery is likely.
Still, recovering mentally may be the greater challenge.
And that’s where George comes in.
In their communication with one another, George has stressed the importance of being both physically and mentally back to where he was prior to the injury.
“He’s someone I can lean on because the mental side is what he says is the toughest part,” Hayward said. “If you can’t get out there and play, it doesn’t go as fast as you want it to go. That’s something that’s going to be a challenge.”
Danny Ainge, the Celtics president of basketball operations, has dealt with players in the past who suffered injuries which kept them out for an extended period of time.
While each player has dealt with their own individual injury, there are some common approaches he takes to help them navigate their way down the road to recovery.
“Just keeping them involved with the team and having them feel they’re a part of us,” Ainge told NBC Sports Boston. “It’s easy for them to be distant, just like it is with a player that doesn’t play who is healthy. It’s hard enough keeping a player like that involved. A player that’s injured, not traveling, doing rehab, sometimes and oftentimes away from the team, just keep them feeling like they’re a part of our team.”
The Celtics are in the process of doing those type of things with Gordon.
In addition to shooting while sitting in a chair, Gordon has also involved himself in video study while passing along what he sees to his teammates and the coaching staff.
But Hayward admits there are times when the emotional toll of what happened to him just five minutes into his career as a Celtic.
“Daily I still have negative thoughts,” Hayward said. “It’s hard not to, especially when you watch the games. It’s something I’m trying to work on. I don’t think I would be human if I didn’t have those thoughts.  But there are definitely positive things I can take from this. There’s no reason to continue to sulk and wallow in some self-pity; it happened. You can’t take it back. As much as I want to rewind it and go out the other way on the pin-down, it's something I’m going to have to deal with. Might as well deal with it now.”
And yes, Hayward said he has seen the incident on replay since it happened.
“It’s kind of hard not to see it with the social media we have today,” Hayward said. “The first I saw was a picture of it. I have a lasting image in my mind to begin with. It was just an unfortunate play.”
As tough as it will be, Hayward knows he must move forward with his rehabilitation both physically and mentally with many offering a helping hand or words of encouragement – including Paul George.
“It’s extremely helpful,” Hayward said. “Especially when you go through something, to talk to someone else who has been through the same thing and also come through this successful.”
George, who, like Hayward, is 27, has been selected to the Eastern Conference All-Star team in the two seasons since getting hurt.
“Paul is still having a tremendous career and came back better than ever,” Hayward said. “Have someone who’s willing to talk to you about it and willing to take his time to help me out, is big for me.”


Celtics thought it would be good . . . but this good?


Celtics thought it would be good . . . but this good?

After arriving in Boston and spending some time with his new teammates, Kyrie Irving felt good about this group doing big things this season. 

But when asked about the experience thus far being what he thought it would be, Irving responded, “It’s probably exceeded that.”

He’s not alone. 

Few would have envisioned the Celtics (15-2) would have the best record in the NBA at this point, let alone be riding a 15-game winning streak which ranks as the fifth-best winning streak in franchise history. 

Irving and his Celtics teammates will try and keep it going tonight when they take on the Dallas Mavericks.

Irving’s ability to mesh with his teammates and still find success was among the many questions out there when the Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers pulled off the blockbuster trade this offseason. 

Blending in has not been an issue for Irving, bolstered by the reality that his game stands out. 

We saw that in Boston’s 110-99 win over the Atlanta Hawks, which was a game in which Irving had 30 points on an insanely efficient 10-for-12 shooting night. 

There were many factors that went into Irving’s strong night against the Hawks, but he said it really came down to one thing above all else.

“I just made some damn shots for once,” Irving quipped. “That right there kind of made it seem better than I actually been shooting over the start of the season.  It would also contribute to being able to be in the right spots and guys being selfless in their approach driving to the basket or getting into the paint. It’s tell-tale sign of all of us getting more comfortable.”

Here are five below-the-radar story lines to keep an eye on as the Boston Celtics face the Dallas Mavericks, with Boston gunning for its 16th straight win. 


Jaylen Brown has been on a bit of an offensive tear of late, the last being a career-high 27-point performance in Boston’s win over Atlanta. But even more telling is how well things seem to flow with him on the floor. Brown’s plus/minus this season is +146 which is tops among all players in the Eastern Conference. His closest competition in the East? That would teammate Al Horford whose plus/minus this season is +143. In addition, Horford has had a positive plus/minus in every game this season. 


You can count Yogi Ferrell among the ones that got away from Brad Stevens when he was coaching at Butler. Ferrell, who played at Indiana, was a player on Stevens’ radar when he was coaching at Butler. “I recruited Yogi, unsuccessfully,” Stevens told reporters in Dallas. While Ferrell came on strong as an undrafted free agent with the Mavericks last season, Stevens said there’s nothing about Ferrell’s game now that he didn’t see when he tried to woo him to Butler. “He would have been awfully good at Butler,” Stevens said.


While Marcus Smart grew up in Flower Mound, Texas (less than an hour from Dallas), tonight’s game is a homecoming of sorts for another Celtics player – Semi Ojeleye. The 6-foot-7 forward played at SMU which is located in Dallas. A second-round pick by Boston in last June’s NBA draft, Ojeleye has been among the many surprise performers for the Celtics this season. “We knew he could be a versatile defender,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “Probably has exceeded our expectations in that regard with his ability to guard one (point guard) through five (center) at certain times. And he’s been pretty consistent shooting the ball. Right now, embracing that kind of 3-and-D role is what he has to do and he’s done it well.”


The Boston Celtics struck gold by drafting Jayson Tatum with the third overall pick. But as you look at the teams that had lottery picks in last June’s NBA draft, few come away feeling disappointed or discouraged by the player selected. The Dallas Mavericks are among the teams pleased with their first-round pick, Dennis Smith Jr. who was selected with the ninth overall pick. He has emerged as one of the top rookies this year, averaging 14.5 points, 4.5 assists and 4.2 rebounds per game. And yes, he was a player that was on the Celtics’ radar leading up to last June’s draft. “We had Dennis in and he was really impressive,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “He’s a guy that’s going to have a great career and he’s got good veteran players around him to help kick it off.”


The numbers aren’t anywhere close to what we’ve seen for the bulk of Dirk Nowitzki’s illustrious career that’s now in Year 20. But there is a demeanor about him that seems to be at peace with where he’s at basketball-wise, even if the wins aren’t nearly as plentiful as he’s accustomed to. “I appreciate his game a ton,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “Just watching him talk on the court, cheer on the bench, sit at the scorer’s table with a smile on his face. You can’t play this long and be this good this long if you don’t’ love it. Everybody says they love it, but he’s got a different level of passion. You can feel it, you can see it. You root for guys like him to have success.”


WATCH: Celtics vs. Mavericks


WATCH: Celtics vs. Mavericks

Tune into NBC Sports Boston to watch the Celtics play the Mavericks in Dallas. You can also click here to watch the Celtics livestream presented by Nissan on the NBC Sports App. Coverage begins at 7:30 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live Presented by ACE Ticket.

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