Gordon Hayward won't be on the court tonight when the Celtics try to close out the Toronto Raptors and advance to the Eastern Conference Finals against the Heat, but the C's wing has passed another checkpoint on his road back to action.
NBC Sports Boston's A. Sherrod Blakely has confirmed that Hayward has cleared quarantine and is working with Celtics trainers inside the NBA's Orlando bubble -- news first reported by the Boston Globe's Gary Washburn.
Hayward suffered a Grade III ankle sprain a little over three weeks ago in the C's playoff opener against Philadelphia. At the time, the Celtics announced he would miss approximately four weeks.
However, an NBA source tells A. Sherrod Blakely that Hayward is not expected to be cleared in time to start the conference finals matchup against Miami -- assuming the Celtics can close out the Toronto Raptors -- but he could be available at some point in that series depending on when it starts and how his rehab progresses.
The potential return of Hayward would be hugely important for the Celtics in a potential matchup against the Heat. Hayward averaged 22 points per game on 55.6 percent shooting and 8 rebounds per game in two meetings against Miami this season, and Jaylen Brown was the only Celtic who had a higher scoring average against the Heat.
Even if Hayward's ankle is healthy enough to return to game action, he could still leave the NBA bubble again, as his wife Robyn is due to give birth to the couple's fourth child -- and first son -- later this month. Should Hayward leave the bubble again, he would have to once again wait through a four-day quarantine period before rejoining his teammates.
Still, the news that Hayward is once again working with team trainers in an attempt to strengthen his ankle is great news for a Celtics team that stands one win away from its third trip to the Eastern Conference Finals in four years.