BOSTON — It’s been a long climb back for Gordon Hayward, but the Boston Celtics forward has continued to make marked progress in his first season back from an ankle injury that sidelined him nearly the entire 2017-18 season.

It took some time for him to regain his footing with the C’s, but Hayward has shown promise down the stretch. The 29-year-old averaged 11.5 points and 4.5 rebounds in his 72 games with the Celtics this season, but ended April averaging 18.3 points and 5.3 rebounds per contest.

With Boston gearing up for Game 1 against the Indiana Pacers on Sunday in the first round of the NBA Playoffs, many are wondering how much the Celtics will lean on the forward. Hayward hasn’t seen the postseason since 2017 when he was with the Utah Jazz, where he averaged 24.1 points and 6.1 rebounds over 11 games.

Pacers head coach Nate McMillan told reporters before Game 1 that the team has been preparing for a much more confident Hayward.

We look at the last Gordon Hayward (we saw), and he was really good. He’s getting his rhythm,” McMillan said.

McMillan praised the forward for an impressive return from his gruesome injury.

You know, any time you come off of a serious injury like that, it’s going to take you some time to get in your rhythm. He has played himself I think back to the Hayward that we know.”

Boston head coach Brad Stevens told reporters it was all about getting Hayward accustomed to the team’s atmosphere.

It was not just a matter of getting physically back, it was a matter of getting comfortable in how we play and figuring out how he fits with everybody else,” Stevens said.

Nevertheless, Stevens appeared confident in the forward heading into Boston’s first game of the postseason.

I think its been a work in progress but it’s obviously been really, really good as of late,” Stevens said.

Hayward will have a chance to showcase just how much he’s improved when the Celtics take on the Pacers in the best-of-seven series.

Thumbnail photo via Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports Images