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Gordon Hayward out: Reactions, timelines, and what the Celtics lineup might look like now

Gordon Hayward has averaged 17.5 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 4.1 assists this season.Pool/Getty

After Gordon Hayward shattered his left ankle in the opening minutes of the 2017-18 season, he watched from the sidelines as the Celtics charged to the brink of the NBA Finals without him.

Last year, he struggled to regain his form, and Boston’s miasmic season wasn’t much fun anyway, as it was mercifully punted out of the playoffs by the Bucks.

But this season was different. Hayward once again looked like the former All-Star who had given this team so much hope when he signed a four-year max contract, and the Celtics’ chemistry and cohesion was obvious. Hayward was ready for the playoffs. Everyone was ready for the playoffs.


Gordon Hayward looked impressive in the run-up to the NBA postseason.Mike Ehrmann/Associated Press

But after one fateful step, there is a chance that Hayward’s season could be over after just one postseason game. The forward injured his right ankle with three minutes left in Boston’s 109-101 win over the 76ers Monday night, and on Tuesday the Celtics revealed that Hayward would be sidelined for four weeks with a Grade 3 sprain. He will miss the rest of this series, and it is likely he would at least be out for the conference semifinals, too.

“Really tough for him,” coach Brad Stevens said. “Obviously, tough for us. He’s had a heck of a season and played really well here … It’s kind of one of those freak things that happens in basketball all the time. But [I] feel for him, more than anything else. It’s our job to make up for all the great things that he does, by committee, and we’ll attempt to do so.”

The Celtics tend to offer worst-case scenarios when announcing injury timelines, but Dr. Rachel Triche, an orthopedic foot and ankle surgeon at the Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute in Los Angeles, said a four-week absence would be on the shorter end of possible outcomes.


“Typically a Grade 3 strain could take anywhere from several weeks to several months to get better,” Triche said. “I would say obviously the Grade 3 is the most severe, but that doesn’t always correlate with how long it takes to return.”

A Grade 3 strain involves torn ligaments. Hayward will not need surgery, but Triche said that it will be important for Hayward to be immobilized to let the ligaments heal, and then he will be able to gradually work on range-of-motion exercises.

This season, Hayward shot 50 percent from the field and averaged 17.5 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 4.1 assists. When Hayward missed 13 games in November because of a broken left hand, Marcus Smart started in his place. And when Smart was sidelined for a game against the Knicks, rookie Grant Williams got the call.

Smart, one of Stevens’s most trusted weapons, will be the most likely option this time, too.

Joel Embiid has words with Marcus Smart after a play during Game 1 of the Boston-Philadelphia playoff series.Pool/Getty

“I’ve got to bring the same energy starting,” Smart said. “It doesn’t require me to really be more of an offensive threat, so I can spend most of my energy on the defensive end, whereas coming off the bench I can be a little more assertive on the offensive end as well, but energy-wise it’s the same.”

Both teams switch constantly on defense, but Hayward and 76ers wing Tobias Harris were matched up most frequently in Game 1. Harris was also Smart’s most frequent matchup, and whatever he gives up in height, he makes up for in grit.


Stevens has been known to throw lineup curveballs when least expected. If he prefers to have Smart’s playmaking and tone-changing defense off the bench, he could go for a physical, defensive-minded forward such as Semi Ojeleye or Williams

“We have a deep rotation, a deep bench,” center Daniel Theis said, “so whoever is going to step up, we know we are going to trust our whole team.”

The Orlando schedule will not work in the Celtics’ favor. When teams are traveling during a series, there are often two days between playoff games. But in the bubble teams play every other day, potentially shortening Hayward’s return window.

The conference semifinals are tentatively scheduled to begin on Aug. 31, though there is a chance they could be moved up if both teams involved end their first-round series quickly. The series would last a maximum of two weeks if it goes seven games, falling entirely in Hayward’s four-week window.

With 3:08 left in the fourth quarter on Monday, Hayward and 76ers center Joel Embiid were chasing a rebound when Hayward’s right foot grazed the top of Theis’s foot as he landed. The outside of Hayward’s ankle rolled as it hit the court.

He limped to the locker room and later left the arena on crutches and wearing a walking boot.

“He’s bummed, as you can imagine,” Stevens said. “Put in a lot of time and effort, and you do so for this time, for the playoffs. That’s what we all look forward to.”


Jaylen Brown, who suffered a thigh contusion when he was inadvertently kneed by Embiid in Game 1, is listed as probable for Wednesday’s Game 2.

Adam Himmelsbach can be reached at Follow him @adamhimmelsbach.