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Boston Celtics’ Gordon Hayward improving, felt his best at practice Tuesday

Boston Celtics star Gordon Hayward’s health was always one of the biggest question-marks of the preseason, and his struggles in the first three preseason games did little alleviate concerns.

Still, hesitancy and rust were to be expected for a player taking the court again for the first time in a year, and on Wednesday, Hayward told reporters he had one of his best practices of the year a day prior — an encouraging sign for the Celtics.

“I feel the best I’ve felt since I’ve been here yesterday, so that was encouraging,” Hayward said. “My body felt pretty good, my back was definitely feeling better. Besides that, I was more comfortable in the offense and it was a good day for me. So we gotta build on that, and have another good one today.”

While Hayward’s repaired left leg has been healthy since his return, he sat the Celtics’ final preseason game in Cleveland with a sore back.

“My back’s been ongoing a little bit, but definitely got progressively worse and that’s what made me think I need to dial it back a little bit,” Hayward said. “I think in the past, it’s bothered me, but it’s gone down with treatment and stuff. But this time it was getting worse, especially after playing. So, like I said, I have to rebuild the strength. My leg is strong because I’ve been focusing on that. But then you forget that you don’t focus on other things that are important and the back is definitely an important part. You can’t do much when your back is hurting.”

The preseason hasn’t been easy for Hayward — returning from a traumatic injury presents unforeseen difficulties beyond simple rehab. 

“It’s definitely hard,” Hayward said. The expectation for myself is to come back and be ready to go and be the exact same player that I was, better than I was. I’ve been working for a whole year and it’s hard to be patient and understand that it’s going to take some time. It can be frustrating, too. It’s not something I’ve ever had to deal with either, so I don’t know what to expect, and how long it’s going to take to find my rhythm and that type of stuff. I do have to be patient and do what I can to help us win.”

Hayward said he expects to play in the season opener on Tuesday against the Philadelphia 76ers. 

“I think he’s just doing a good job each day taking steps — positive steps — forward,” Al Horford said. “I think yesterday in my eyes was probably one of his better practices. He just started to feel more comfortable, moving really well. I was very happy to see him — he just looked comfortable.”

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