Paul George has become nearly as invested in Gordon Hayward’s recovery as anyone not named Gordon Hayward. The Oklahoma City forward was reminded of his own gruesome compound fracture when Hayward went down minutes into his Celtics debut. During a Team USA scrimmage in Aug. 2014, George landed awkwardly on the stanchion, severely fracturing the tibia and fibula in his right leg.
Within days of Hayward’s injury, George reached out to his fellow Team USA participant and became his unofficial injury rehab sherpa. Five months later, George is still closely following Hayward’s rehab. Following the Oklahoma City Thunder’s 100-99 loss to the Boston Celtics, George dished on some of the wisdom he’s shared with Hayward.
“I’ve been in touch with him, texting and kind of been watching him from afar, how he’s been progressing,” said George after the Thunder’s 100-99 loss to the Celtics Tuesday night. “Early on, I was around him more so, sending him messages and talking to him. At this point, it looks like he’s doing really well, just watching him on the court. Now he’s shooting, doing a little bit on-court stuff.”
“The biggest thing was just letting him know what obstacles he was going to have to face with that injury. I think it helped a bit, just helping him and giving him a heads-up of what to expect. But again, he’s doing a lot better. I think at this point, he don’t need me to give him encouraging words. He knows I’ve got his back.”
Last week Hayward experienced soreness on a zero-gravity treadmill, prompting team president Danny Ainge to refer to the development as a “setback.”
It wasn’t that surprising for George. He returned to the Pacers lineup near the end of the 2014-15 season, eight months after he suffered a near-catastrophic tibia fracture. However, six games back into his recovery he suffered a calf strain in his other leg that ended his season. He was able to provide counsel to Hayward on what to expect.
“That’s one of the biggest things I told him, because I knew it was going to be frustrating, where you feel like you’re getting better, you’re about to turn that corner and then you’re going to have some setbacks,” George said. “That’s part of doing so well, putting so much stress on it, that sometimes it’s going to get sore, sometimes it’s going to feel like you shouldn’t have did something. It’s all part of the process. You gotta build, go through some walls. You gotta build some confidence and trust that leg all over again. But I told him there’s going to be some good days and there’s going to be some bad days.”
The most comforting example that George provides is that he has been an All-Star every season since 2016, providing a blueprint for his long-term outlook. However, with the Celtics in title contention, there are different expectations on Hayward than there were on George three years ago when Indiana missed the postseason entirely. Hayward is unlikely to return to the Celtics lineup before their season finale on April 11, but a lengthy playoff excursion increases the odds of Hayward getting on the court this season.
Gordon Hayward experienced soreness jogging last week. (Getty Images)
Yet, George preaches caution about overreacting to reports of Hayward’s improvement.
“I think I played April 1 [in 2015]. I was probably medically cleared maybe middle February, early March,” George said. “So, I was practicing maybe about a month before I actually played. So that was helpful. That was helpful building and kind of getting some confidence trusting the leg and just putting some force through it.”