BOSTON (AP) Celtics forward Gordon Hayward was cleared to play in Monday night's game against the Cleveland Cavaliers, returning to the Boston lineup ahead of schedule in his return from a broken hand.
Celtics coach Brad Stevens said after the team's morning shootaround that Hayward was able to participate fully in the practice and would go through the pregame walkthrough ''with the intention of playing. About two hours before the scheduled tipoff, the team announced that he would be available.
''It's always good to get good players back,'' Stevens said at the team's practice facility. ''We're hopeful that he'll be able to play.''
Hayward broke a bone in his left hand Nov. 9 and was expected to miss about six weeks. But he said this weekend that the bone is healed and - thanks to a plate with screws - might even be stronger than it was before.
''The bone is healed. I can't hurt it worse,'' Hayward said on Sunday, adding that the soft tissue is sore and the motion and strength are limited. ''It's whether or not you can play through that and still be effective. That's kind of what we're determining. But the bone is healed.''
Hayward missed all but five minutes of the 2017-18 season with a broken leg. He had finally returned to his pre-injury form, averaging 19 points, four assists and a career-high seven rebounds this year before breaking the hand.
Stevens said Hayward's availability for the start of a series of three games in four nights would be helpful because guard Marcus Smart has an eye infection and might not be able to play against Cleveland. Forward Robert Williams has also been ruled out with left hip soreness.
Guard Kemba Walker said he was excited to have Hayward back.
''He was playing really well before he got hurt. Of course we need him,'' Walker said. ''He is one of our best players. He's a starter for us and averaging 20 points. That's 20 points that we were missing.''
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