Celtics

Ainge: "Gordon Hayward wants to return faster than anyone has from this injury"

Ainge: "Gordon Hayward wants to return faster than anyone has from this injury"

BOSTON – A picture of Gordon Hayward without a boot on his left leg, posted by his wife Robyn, sent Celtics Nation into a brief tizzy that maybe, just maybe, the season-ending ankle injury he suffered five minutes into the opener may not be season-ending after all.

Danny Ainge -- while stressing the recuperation timetable hasn't changed -- says Hayward "deep inside . . . wants to come faster than anybody has from this kind of injury."

"He's got a competitive streak to him and he's asking lots of questions," Ainge said Thursday morning on 98.5 The Sports Hub's Toucher & Rich. "He's diligent in his rebab. I know what's going on his mind, but I don't think he'll say anything about how fast he wants to get back."

Officially, however, he's still on pace for a 2018-19 comeback.

“He can take the boot off for short periods of time,” Ainge said. “But yeah, he’s doing really well. His therapy is going great. He’s right on schedule. He’s sometimes doing two workouts a day, trying to get stronger. The next phase is getting out of the boot completely, but I still think that’s a couple weeks away, from being permanently out of the boot.”

Coach Brad Stevens echoed similar sentiments, adding that Hayward still wears the boot most of the day.

“He wears the boot until a certain time every evening and then he can take it off,” Stevens said. “When he moves around, he can move around with a brace that’s like a boot.”

Hayward suffered a dislocated left ankle injury in the season opener at Cleveland. The injury led to the Celtics being granted an $8.4 million disabled player exception, which is the largest DPE granted to an NBA team.

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The Celtics are going to beat teams however they want

The Celtics are going to beat teams however they want

If you were to tell me before Tuesday night that the Celtics would get barely anything out of Kyrie Irving and still smoke the 76ers, I'd have been like, "well, yeah."

Then I'd have asked you if you watched the playoffs last season, when they beat the 76ers in five games without Kyrie Irving. 

Then I'd have pointed out that they could have smoked the 76ers even if a couple of their other stars didn't have big offensive nights. I probably would have said the Celtics could get seven points from Kyrie, nine from Al Horford and 10 from Gordon Hayward and still win by 18. I would have called it exactly because I'm a brilliant man. 

I would say they'd do it because one of their other stars would go off and at least a couple guys off the bench would have big nights. And because they'd probably still keep the 76ers under 100 points, as they did in three of four regular-season meetings last season. 

MORE CELTICS OPENING NIGHT COVERAGE

Tuesday's season opener illustrated a lot of things: that the C's and 76ers are rivals the same way the last two people at the bar are in love, that Jaylen Brown is the most photogenic dunker in the league and that Ben Simmons is still allergic to shooting. 

Yet the biggest and most important thing is that the Celtics are indeed deep enough to have different players carry them at different times -- even as players go quiet for a game or two at a time -- and still win games. They'll do it to the mediocre teams in the East, and they'll probably do it to the better teams in the West. Only when they presumably meet the Warriors in the NBA Finals -- and a lot can happen between now and then -- will they actually live and die by all of their players showing out. 

We can talk about that in June, though. For now, let's talk about how Jayson Tatum's 23-point, nine-rebound night probably wasn't an anomaly, and how games like that will afford the Celtics the luxury of bringing along Hayward at whichever pace they'd like. 

Or we can talk about how even with Irving having a dreadful shooting night (8-for-14; 1-for-8 on threes), everyone knows better than to worry about it. Even the most cynical of media figures couldn't fear it being a common occurrence, with it far more likely that Irving will do his normal routine of scoring early, getting everyone involved after and gong for the jugular if needed in the second half. 

Brown made a big jump from Year 1 to Year 2; Tuesday he had a modest performance that was punctuated by a dunk through (?) Joel Embiid. He'll have his nights. So will Al Horford. And the now RFA-to-be Terry Rozier, who had 11 off the bench, as well as Marcus Morris (16 points). 

The list goes on, and with the Celtics depth brings lineup options beyond the obvious starting five of Iriving-Brown-Hayward-Tatum-Horford. Brad Stevens doesn't need the best players in a given matchup to exploit the opposition, but now he has them. 

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Highlights: Tatum leads Celtics past 76ers in season opener

Highlights: Tatum leads Celtics past 76ers in season opener

Highlights from the Celtics 105-87 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers in their first game of the 2018-19 NBA season.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.

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