Gordon Hayward didn't play in the first two games of Eastern Conference finals, but he could play in Game 3 on Saturday night, as he has been upgraded to questionable for the contest, the team announced on Friday. Within the Celtics organization, there's significant optimism that Hayward will be able to play as long as he feels fine following pregame warmups, according to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski.
If Hayward is ultimately able to play, it would be his first action since he suffered a Grade 3 ankle sprain in the first game of Boston's first round series 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 ready to return. His return would provide Boston with a big boost by helping to bolster their bench.
Celtics coach Brad Stevens was cautiously optimistic about a potential return from Hayward before the start of series against the Heat. "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 will have upon his 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 2-0 in the series, and while both games have been very close, Boston is running out of time to get Hayward back. The Celtics are just two 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.