By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) -- Gordon Hayward made his early return to the Celtics lineup Monday night, and the forward showed no lingering effects of the bone he broke in his left hand last month. He was a bit gassed after a lengthy stretch in the third quarter, but other than that, Hayward was his usual self in Boston's big win over the Cavaliers.
Hayward scored 14 points off 7-for-10 shooting, with most of his baskets coming off the fast break and inside cuts to the hoop. He was happy to test his hand against Cleveland's stout frontcourt of Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson, and said last month's injury never entered his mind during the C's win.
"Not when I was out there playing," Hayward told reporters. "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."
Hayward got on the board midway through the first quarter, running the floor after Daniel Theis rejected a Collin Sexton layup attempt on the other end. Hayward took a beautiful feed from Jaylen Brown in stride and put it in for an easy deuce. Four of his seven makes came from inside the paint on Monday night.
"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."
Most of Hayward's damage came in the third quarter, when Brad Stevens played him for the entire 12-minute frame. Hayward went 5-for-7 in the quarter, scoring 10 of his 14 points. He admitted after the win that after a month away from game action, he felt a little winded following his marathon stretch.
"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," he said. "So I'm working on that."
But for a guy who wasn't expected to return until Christmas Day, Hayward looked pretty darn good on Monday night. It was a soft landing for him against the lowly Cavaliers, but with a tough back-to-back in Indiana and against the 76ers on Wednesday and Thursday, it was a perfect way to start getting his legs back.
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