Celtics

Celtics-Heat Notebook: Gordon Hayward’s return remains unclear, Game 1 set for 6:30 Tuesday night

(Isaac Baldizon/Getty Images)

Gordon Hayward was back on the practice court with his Celtics teammates for the first time since finishing his quarantine in the Orlando bubble on Sunday afternoon.

Hayward has missed nearly a month since suffering a Grade 3 ankle sprain in Boston’s first game of the postseason last month. He rehabbed away from the team with his family for much of August, but has now returned to Orlando as he gets closer to a potential return.

“He did a couple of non-contact, very light drills," Brad Stevens said after practice. "He’s out there doing individual work right now, but none of the stuff with any groups.”

The Celtics originally estimated a four-week absence for Hayward since suffering the injury on August 17, but several NBA players have been sidelined longer than that with a Grade 3 ankle sprain. Stevens confirmed that Hayward would return at some point during the Eastern Conference Finals against the Heat, but when that will be still is unclear.

“Since I’ve seen him last, it’s good progress," Stevens said. "I know he feels better. He’s worked hard to get to where he is and I think he’ll play at some point in this series. As far as predicting a timeline, I have no idea. But I feel like he’s made good progress and will play eventually.”

Hayward has had a lot of success against the Heat this year. He averaged 22 points and 8 rebounds per game against Miami while shooting 55 percent from the field over two games. He also shot more free throws per game (8) against them than any other opponent. However, with his availability still unclear just two days away from the series, it will be intriguing to see how he’s used by Stevens when he's cleared to play. Marcus Smart is going to be essential in this series from a defensive standpoint, so it’s hard to envision him being moved to the bench for Hayward after a month-long layoff for the swingman.

Instead, I’d say it's a safe guess that we will see Hayward coming off the bench, at least initially in this scenario. That will allow Smart to spend more time on the Heat’s more dangerous offensive weapons (Butler/Dragic) and give the Celtics some leeway to see how much Hayward can handle. Given that he’s still only taking part in individual drills, I’d be shocked if we see him in Game 1. A return sometime next weekend sounds more realistic.

Game 1 time set at 6:30 p.m. for Tuesday night

The Nuggets beat the Clippers on Sunday afternoon to force a Game 7, which means the Celtics-Heat Game 1 matchup will be back into an early time slot on Tuesday night at 6:30 p.m. After a day off on Saturday for the players, the Celtics coaching staff got to work on Sunday putting in the gameplan for a Miami team that has gone 8-1 in the postseason so far.

“Well it’s quite a balance because we need a couple of days to feel our best and to play our freshest so that the extra time helps in that regard,” Stevens said. “We also have to get ready for a great team. We took today and went pretty light, yesterday off, so it’s mostly mental reps that far. We’ll go a little harder tomorrow and be ready to play on Tuesday. But I think we got a lot done today. Talked about things that we thought were most important to start the series out well and we know we’ve got our hands full.”

The Celtics have only played once against a revamped Heat team since overhauling a huge part of their roster since the trade