Gordon Hayward didn’t play in the Eastern Conference finals opener, and it appears he’ll make it two straight absences as he’s listed as doubtful for Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals between the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat. This is the first time Hayward has been listed as anything other than “out” since suffering a Grade 3 ankle sprain in the first round against the Philadelphia 76ers. At the time, he was given a four-week timeline to return. Four weeks have now passed, and while nothing is certain, Hayward appears to be getting closer and closer to a return. 

Celtics coach Brad Stevens was optimistic before the series, but also cautious. “I think he’ll be back at some point in that series, but I don’t know when,” Stevens said after Boston’s Game 7 victory over the Toronto Raptors. What role he could return to is less certain. Marcus Smart has thrived as a starter for the Celtics over the past two rounds. Hayward likely wouldn’t be ready to take on a starter’s workload immediately upon returning to the court, but Boston’s lack of depth would make any minutes he could provide critical. 

Looming over a possible return is Hayward’s stated intention of leaving the bubble to be with his wife as she gives birth to their fourth child. She is due at some point in late September, though it is unknown when. Hayward revealed his plans before the postseason began, and has not commented since. It should therefore be assumed that he does plan to leave Orlando when that time comes, even if it means missing playoff games. 

The Heat lead the Celtics 1-0 after an overtime victory in Game 1, and while that suggests these teams are relatively close to one another, Boston is running out of time to get Hayward back. The Celtics are three games away from elimination. If he is going to make a difference in this matchup, he’ll need to return to the lineup as soon as possible. 

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