Upon his arrival in Cleveland, Gordon Hayward acknowledged he was a little more anxious than usual for tonight’s game.
And during the Boston Celtics’ morning shoot-around, those nerves were still a bit unsettled.
Considering all that he has been through over the past 12 months - and where he was at tonight - it made sense.
Tuesday was Hayward’s first game back at Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena, the same court that a little more than a year ago dramatically changed his life after he suffered a gruesome, season-ending left ankle/leg injury.
So for Hayward, Tuesday night’s 103-96 win over Cleveland was indeed a mile-marker of sorts as he continues down the path of recovery.
“I was a little anxious about it for sure, sitting in my hotel room last night, just thinking about how everything changed,” Hayward told reporters following Tuesday’s win. “Where I was sitting a year ago, from now. I’m just happy I was out there.”
But Hayward was more than just another warm body on the floor for the Celtics on Tuesday.
☘️CELTICS 103, CAVALIERS 96
With Kyrie Irving (hip) and Marcus Morris (knee) both out, Boston needed a lift from its second unit.
And to Hayward's credit, he was up for the challenge.
The 6-foot-8 Hayward tallied 18 points off the Celtics bench, in addition to grabbing six rebounds while dishing out five assists.
“Beautiful. He’s been struggling a lot,” Boston’s Marcus Smart told reporters in describing Hayward's game against the Cavs. “To come back to the place where it all started, to have a great game is something that sits in the back of your mind. We’re happy for him; we’re proud of him.”
Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said he had not given Hayward’s previous visit to Cleveland any thought until this morning.
“I just think he’s played enough now, he’s past that initial hurdle, right?” Stevens said. “It’s probably not fun to walk out on the court the first time and shoot-around and those type of things. But ultimately, he probably moved past that pretty quickly."
Stevens added, “He was great tonight, both ends of the court. I thought his offensive play-making, passing the ball, was as good as his scoring.”
Even after he entered the game in the first quarter on Tuesday, Hayward’s anxiousness had not gone away.
But those emotions didn’t stick around for long.
“After I got up and down and I was running around for a little bit, they were gone. But definitely, warming up … even at shoot-around I was little anxious about it.”
None of that matters now.
Hayward had a strong game, the Celtics (35-19) got the win, and Hayward crosses yet another mile-marker in his road to recovery.
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