Gordon Hayward was supposed to return to the Celtics’ lineup perhaps around Christmas after breaking his left hand Nov. 9.
Well, Christmas has arrived early: Hayward appears ready to return Monday against the Cavaliers.
Hayward suffered the injury in a collision with San Antonio’s LaMarcus Aldridge and had surgery Nov. 11. He has missed 13 games.
Hayward participated in his first practice Sunday at the Auerbach Center in Brighton and said he’s healthy enough to go. He’ll participate in the team’s Monday shootaround and is expected to be officially cleared afterward.
On the team’s injury report Sunday, Hayward was listed as questionable for Monday.
“The last couple of days have been really good. So we’ll see how it goes [Monday] morning. [Monday night’s game] is a possibility,” he said. “We’ll see how it feels when I wake up, go through shootaround, see how it goes.
“I have [been hit on the hand]. It’s still something I’m still guarding. I think it’s going to be like that for a little while, just natural. And part of that is getting out there and playing, just getting over it mentally. I have gotten it hit. It has reacted normally. So I think the bone has healed. That’s the important part.”
The Celtics have gone 9-4 in Hayward’s absence and won three consecutive games — including resounding victories over the Heat and Nuggets. The addition of Hayward would help greatly in a difficult back-to-back set against the Pacers and 76ers beginning Wednesday.
Hayward was averaging 18.9 points, 7.1 rebounds, and 4.1 assists in eight games, emerging as the team’s best playmaker and reliable scorer early in games. He scored a Celtics’-high 39 points in a 119-113 win over the Cavaliers on Nov. 5. He followed that with a 20-point performance in 29 minutes two nights later against the Charlotte Hornets, two days before the injury.
The Celtics originally said Hayward would miss six weeks and was likely to return before Jan. 1. Hayward said the hand has been examined and he feels comfortable returning now.
“The bone is healed. It’s probably stronger than my right hand,” he said. “There’s a plate in there, some screws, so the bone is good. It’s just a broken hand.
“I can’t do anything that’s going to hurt [it in the same way]. I’d have to do something equally as hard, probably more than last time because I have metal in my hand now.”
Hayward said he’s been impressed with the Celtics’ recent surge but he sees opportunity to get better.
“I think we definitely show flashes of being really, really good, but we also show a lot of flashes where we can improve, too,” he said. “We have some things we can get better at, but I still think we’re playing pretty good basketball. We’re finding ways to win, I like that.”
The only thing Celtics coach Brad Stevens would say is, “He’s coming back sooner than later.”
Support for Beilein
Stevens has been an ardent supporter of new Cavaliers coach John Beilein, who led Michigan to two Final Fours before accepting the Cleveland job at age 66. A recent report in the The Athletic quoted unnamed sources saying some players are tired of Beilein’s college style. Cavaliers forward Tristan Thompson went on the record to support his coach.
Stevens maintained his admiration for Beilein, whose team comes to TD Garden with a 5-17 record. They lost Saturday in Philadelphia by 47 points, allowing 77 points in the opening half.
“I don’t pay attention to anything with unnamed sources,” he said. “I just think if you’re not going to put your name next to it, it doesn’t really matter.
“Secondly, I think the biggest thing is it is an adjustment. The biggest adjustment is not in the basketball, it’s in the schedule. But Beilein’s great, I’ve talked about how good Beilein is multiple times and we have a lot of respect for their team. They played great against us and put up  points the last time in Cleveland. It’s always scary when you’re playing a team that’s just been wounded a little bit in this league.”
Stevens reflected on his first NBA season (2013-14) when he inherited a rebuilding team after the Paul Pierce-Kevin Garnett trade filled with veterans on the final years of contracts or who were not part of the long-term future.
“First of all, all of our guys were really good to me,” Stevens said. “We weren’t a great team but we played really hard. We had a number of older guys in bigger roles before. I always think back to how much I appreciated Gerald Wallace. Here’s a guy that was starting his whole career, was an All-Star. He comes in, we don’t start him after Game 4, but the end of his time here he’s not playing and all he did was support us.
“That says something because I know my head was spinning and I know he didn’t have to do that and I think that says a lot of about it. There’s a reason why you can build something substantive over time. You need the people in the building to all be moving in one direction. I’ve always appreciated guys like Gerald for that.
“We do some defensive things today that I’m not sure we would be able to what we did in college because [Rajon] Rondo liked doing it. Rondo deciding it was worth while meant a lot to everybody else. That kind stuff matters.”
On the shelf
The Celtics listed Robert Williams as out for Monday with left hip soreness. It’s uncertain when Williams, who played 13 minutes Friday against Denver, was injured. He has played in 19 of 21 games, but has been hampered by various nagging injuries.