BOSTON — Let’s get the bad news out of the way: Gordon Hayward’s left elbow stiffened up in the first half of Sunday's exhibition opener against the Charlotte Hornets and he spent part of the second half icing it on the bench.
The better news: Before the injury scare, Hayward displayed some of his pre-injury explosiveness and the sort of moves that his ankle wouldn’t allow him to make a season ago.
Hayward doesn’t remember getting hit on his elbow in the first half but said the soreness lingered. He was seen talking with team trainers on the sideline in the third quarter before having ice applied. Hayward downplayed long-term concern but admitted he’ll get treatment moving forward in hopes of combating the soreness.
"It happened in the first half, it’s hard to bend it or straighten it all the way,” said Hayward. “Then, in the second [half], I thought it would loosen up, it didn’t really loosen up. Something happened in the first half but we’ll work on it.
"It must have gotten hit or extended or something. I don’t know when it was, it was in the first half some time. It definitely is sore right now but we’ll work on it the next couple of days.”
Hayward admitted he felt some tingling in his arm but, asked if he’s concerned, he downplayed the injury again.
“It’ll be fine, I’m sure,” said Hayward.
Celtics coach Brad Stevens said the original diagnosis was simply a bruise but said Hayward would follow up with team trainers to ensure that’s the case.
Before the elbow injury, Hayward put together some tremendously encouraging stretches, including a series of explosive moves in the first half. He threw an alley-oop lob to Robert Williams for a dunk on the game’s first play, had a nice drive to the basket through traffic for a reverse layup, and knocked down a 3-pointer off a pretty feed from new teammate Kemba Walker all in the first 3 ½ minutes.
Later in the first quarter, Hayward picked off a pass and streaked in for a layup. He wore a big smile after the play — not because of the athleticism he displayed in jumping the passing lane and breaking out alone, but because he didn’t have the energy to dunk the ball.
“Still gotta get my legs underneath me. I would have normally dunked the one on the fast break but I was way too tired,” said Hayward. "I’m going to have to improve that. It was certainly good to get out there and make some explosive moves to the basket.”
Many within the Celtics organization spent the summer hyping up Hayward’s return to form. New teammate Enes Kanter in particular said Hayward should be eyeing an All-Star trip, and later definitively declared that Hayward is back. Danny Ainge tried to diminish the buzz a bit on Saturday at the team’s open practice while noting it had gotten a bit out of control and wanted to keep expectations realistic.
Alas, the flashes Hayward showed early in Sunday’s game will do little to derail that hype train. Hayward finished with nine points on 4-of-10 shooting with three rebounds and three assists over 22:24 in Boston’s win. He was minus-11 in plus/minus due in part to Boston’s defensive struggles early in the game but Hayward looked really sharp during an extended first stint.
The Celtics need a healthy Hayward and, if they get the one that played with pre-injury explosion and craftiness, it only ups the ceiling on what this team can potentially be.
Boston has plenty of other areas to shore up — and real concerns in figuring out their defensive back line — but early returns suggest the offseason Hayward hype appears to have been legitimate.
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