Gordon Hayward’s leg feels fine, but other parts of him are sore
The process is a methodical one for Gordon Hayward, and it’s testing his patience as he works to make his NBA comeback.
His surgically repaired left leg, the one that was broken and dislocated a year ago, is sound, but other parts of his body are causing discomfort because of the long layoff and the toll of recovery. He has been bothered by a sore back in recent days, which is frustrating because his leg feels fine.
But he expects to play in Tuesday’s season opener against the Philadelphia 76ers.
“My back is feeling better,” he said Wednesday. “Some days off really helped it. I have found out that it’s going to be a process because of not playing for so long, the rest of my body has to readjust. It’s very frustrating but it’s better right now.”
The preseason has been a struggle for Hayward, who was 5 of 20 shooting, including 1 of 10 from the 3-point line, in three games. It was almost unfair for Hayward to expect himself to return to All-Star form right away, but he didn’t expect his body to ache as it has since training camp began.
“My leg is strong, and I’ve been focusing on that, but then you forget and just don’t focus on some of the other things that are important,” he said. “And the back is definitely an important part. You can’t do much when you back’s hurting.”
Hayward said that on Wednesday, he “felt the best I’ve felt since I’ve been here, so that was encouraging. My body was feeling good and my back was definitely feeling better.”
A bigger issue for Hayward, and the Celtics, will be blending him into the offense and carving out a role with emerging wingmen Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.
“We’ve got to work on that,” Hayward said. “Just by playing together on the court in different situations, we’ll start to figure that out. That stuff takes a little bit of time. It’s not going to happen overnight.
“Thankfully I think we’ve got three really good players that can do a lot of things for our team, so I think we have to figure out how to utilize that.”
When will Hayward return to top form? He doesn’t know. He thought the road back would be smoother once his leg healed. But the journey has remained bumpy, even on the verge of the season.
“It’s definitely hard,” he said. “It’s hard to be patient and understand that it’s going to take some time.
“It’s not something I’ve ever had to deal with, either, so I don’t know what to expect and how long it’s going to take to find my rhythm, but I do have to be patient and do what I can to help us win.”
Taking the long view
With a 1-3 preseason record, including two losses to the LeBron-less Cavaliers, coach Brad Stevens said his team has shown its best “behind the scenes” in practice, not in games.
“I think we’ve continued to try to add a little bit more structure as these guys get used to playing together,” he said. “That’s been good, so hopefully we’ll be able to build off that.”
Stevens did say that, despite their depth and returning players, the Celtics won’t be close to a finished product by Tuesday. They are going to have to learn a lot about themselves during meaningful games.
“We want to play our best that we can next Tuesday, but we want to be the very best we can after 82 games,” Stevens said. “So it’s a long year, and whatever happens on Tuesday doesn’t necessarily define you, but it does show you where you have to work moving forward.
“We’re playing a really good team that presents a lot of challenges and a lot of issues, which I think is a really good thing because we’ll see all where we have to work.”
Center Al Horford said practices are increasingly competitive because of the team’s depth.
Take Tuesday, when the second unit won a scrimmage against the first team. Things are getting more intense and focused as the opener approaches.
“There is a different feel,” Horford said. “We all understand what’s in front of us, what we’ve been waiting for, the season’s here.
“They push us a lot. For example, the first game we played was tied, and Guerschon [Yabusele] hits a game-winner and the bench beats us.
“It’s very competitive every day. We’re going at it, and those guys are competitors. I feel like it’s making us better. We plan for it to be at that level all week. That’s what we’re trying to shoot for.
“In the preseason, they’ve been giving us a lot of problems.”