Boston Celtics forward Gordon Hayward is expected to rejoin the team soon inside the bubble but coach Brad Stevens cautioned that it could still be a while before he’s ready for game action.
Hayward left the bubble earlier this month after suffering a Grade III right ankle sprain in a Game 1 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers. He was expected to miss at least four weeks, which would suggest a possible mid-September return at best.
"Rehab seems to be going OK,” said Stevens. "He feels a little bit better. Still has a pretty significant amount of — I don’t think his gait is perfect yet. Once his gait feels right and becomes perfect, he’s probably on a quicker course to coming back. I think he’ll rejoin us in the bubble at some point soon but he still will be some time away when he does do that.”
The absence of Hayward hasn’t slowed the Celtics, who have won five in a row to open the playoffs, including Sunday’s Game 1 of an Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Raptors. With a potential Game 7 scheduled for Sept. 11, it would seem unlikely that Hayward could return during this series.
Even the Celtics’ four-week timeline seemed aggressive based on a sample of time missed by other players due to recent Grade III sprains. Boston plugged Marcus Smart into the starting lineup and he was one of the stars of Sunday’s win.
Still, Hayward could be vital in determining the length of Boston’s playoff run. Remember, too, that Hayward has said he expects to leave the bubble in September when his wife, Robyn, gives birth to the family’s fourth child. Hayward will be subject to at least a four-day quarantine upon return, meaning he could miss another string of games depending on when he’s able to return and the delivery date.
Boston avoided another injury setback Sunday as Kemba Walker reported he felt fine after he tweaked his balky left knee defending a Pascal Siakam drive. Walker said he felt a little sore after Sunday’s game but responded well to treatment.
"Felt good, felt good actually. Tweaked it a little bit, but it’s the nature of the game. It happens,” said Walker. "For the moment, it bothered me a little bit, but my adrenaline was pumping. A little sore last night but I got some treatment. Doing everything I can to stay on top of it. I felt really good today, actually. Hopefully I can continue to feel this way.”
Stevens joked that Walker went through the entirety of Boston’s not-so-lengthy 12-minute practice on Monday afternoon.