If Gordon Hayward needed any extra motivation or evidence he still could bounce back stronger than ever from the leg injury that derailed his 2017-18 season, all he needed to do was look across the court Sunday during the Boston Celtics’ 134-129 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder at TD Garden.
Paul George has walked a mile in Hayward’s shoes, having suffered his own gruesome leg injury during a Team USA scrimmage back in 2014. Now, he’s performing at an MVP-caliber level for the Thunder, who rank third in the Western Conference behind the Golden State Warriors and Denver Nuggets.
So, what advice would George give Hayward, who’s had an up-and-down 2018-19 campaign? The Thunder swingman mostly believes his Celtics counterpart should remain patient.
“Just honestly, don’t be so hard on yourself,” George said Sunday, per MassLive.com. “I was fortunate. Again, when I got hurt, the following season I got to play six games and that kind of helped me into the transition. The fact of the matter is, everybody’s expecting Gordon to be Gordon from Utah. But he’s not. He’s gotta take strides, take steps along the way. Fans can’t be too hard on him. He can’t be too hard on himself. The game is different. You get hurt and sit out a year and try to come back, the game is totally different (than) the way you left it. He’s got to adapt, find his game, find his rhythm, block out the noise that people are expecting him to be himself right away. It takes time.”
George, who had been coming off back-to-back All-Star seasons, went down Aug. 1, 2014. He returned to action for the Indiana Pacers on April 5, 2015, and appeared in six games down the stretch, averaging 15.2 minutes per contest.
Hayward, who signed with the Celtics in the summer of 2017 after spending his first seven seasons with the Utah Jazz, suffered his injury roughly five minutes into Boston’s opener on Oct. 17, 2017. He missed the remainder of the season and has appeared in 48 of the Celtics’ first 53 games this season, averaging 25.7 minutes per contest.
Hayward has shown flashes of being the player he was in Utah but has struggled for the most part with Boston, creating uncertainty over his long-term potential moving forward. George sounds confident in Hayward’s ability to return to form, though. It’ll just take time, says the Thunder star.
“When I got hurt, the doctors told me it would be two to three years before I feel the way I feel now,” George said, per MassLive.com. “Despite them saying I would make a full recovery, sit the next season out, make a full recovery and I would be back to myself, but it won’t be two or three years before I notice everything coming back. So it’s a long marathon for him. But he will be all right.”
George is averaging a career-high 27.8 points per game this season, while Hayward is averaging 10.6 points per contest. Hayward likely won’t reach George’s level anytime soon — he wasn’t that type of player even before messing up his leg — but maybe the Celtics shouldn’t write off the 28-year-old just yet.
Thumbnail photo via Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY Sports Images