BOSTON -- One month after breaking a bone in his left hand and four weeks after having surgery to repair it, Gordon Hayward returned to the lineup for the Boston Celtics and finished with 14 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists in 26 minutes in a 110-88 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers at TD Garden.
"The hand feels good," Hayward said afterward. "Get some more treatment on it tomorrow and get ready for the next game."
Although the hapless Cavaliers, losers of 13 of their past 14 games, didn't offer much resistance, Hayward's presence was immediately felt. The Celtics managed to survive without him the past few weeks, going 9-4 with him sidelined following a 7-1 start with him, but the team's offense began to sag under the weight of making up for his absence.
Hayward immediately gave the team a boost Monday, going 7-for-10 from the field, as he was able to get several baskets inside on cuts and in fast-break settings.
"I got some easy looks," Hayward said. "Getting one in transition felt good. Anytime you get a layup, it definitely makes the rim get a little bit bigger for you. I think it's a lot easier this time to come back from something when you can run around and you don't have to rest your legs, so it's just my left hand. That made it a lot easier."
What also was made easier was Boston's overall offensive execution with Hayward's return. The presence of another high-level shot-creator alongside Kemba Walker -- who had game highs of 22 points and seven assists -- gives Boston more ways to attack when both of them are on the court as well as someone for the team to run the offense through when Walker is on the bench.
"Yeah, I thought he was pretty good," Stevens said. "I didn't anticipate much [rust]. It hasn't been very long in the big scheme of things, especially with what he went through last time.
"He got baskets off cuts and those typical kind of energy plays, and with the score being what it was, I didn't want to take him out. I wanted to get kind of to where I wanted him to play, minutes-wise, in that third quarter and stretch himself with 12 straight minutes, but I thought he was good."
Rust might not be an issue, but conditioning is. Given that it was a broken bone in his hand, Hayward was able to keep up his cardio work while waiting to come back to the court.
To try to move things along -- especially with the game, despite a couple second-half surges by the Cavaliers, never being in doubt -- Stevens kept Hayward on the court for the full 12 minutes in the third quarter. Afterward, Hayward, who went 5-for-7 from the floor and scored 10 of his 14 points in the quarter, admitted he was feeling it.
"Yeah, for sure," he said. "Toward the end, especially at the end of the third quarter, I was, for sure, gassed. That's something that no matter how much cardio you do, you've got to just play through the game sometimes and get that game conditioning back, so I'm working on that."
Still, the night was a success for him. Not only did he play well and make it through the game unscathed, but he also said he was happy that the Cavaliers -- and their imposing front line of Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson -- were his first opponents back, so he could give his hand a proper test while fighting for position inside.
After the game, he said he didn't notice it.
"Not when I was out there playing," Hayward said. "Tonight was a good test, too, dealing with their bigs and trying to block them out. Certainly, like I said, I have to build up more strength in it. My motion isn't all the way back. But I didn't feel like it affected me."
The Celtics, who are 10-0 at home and 17-5 overall (good for second in the Eastern Conference) next head to Hayward's native Indiana to face the Pacers on Wednesday before returning to Boston on Thursday to face the Philadelphia 76ers for the first time since losing to them opening night. That game will mark Al Horford's return to Boston.