Gordon Hayward Won't Return vs. Hawks After Neck Injury Diagnosed as Strain

Kyle Newport@@KyleNewportFeatured ColumnistMarch 16, 2019

Boston Celtics forward Gordon Hayward (20) dribbles the ball during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Boston, Monday, Jan. 28, 2019. The Celtics won 112-104. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
Charles Krupa/Associated Press

Boston Celtics forward Gordon Hayward has been ruled out for the remainder of Saturday's game against the Atlanta Hawks because of a neck strain.

Hayward left the game late in the first quarter after running into a screen set by Hawks forward John Collins:

Celtics on NBC Sports Boston @NBCSCeltics

Hayward is OUT for the rest of the game vs the Hawks (strained neck) due to this play (@AAANe_MAnews) #AAANortheast https://t.co/BbNEXXUjn0

He exited after logging only one minute in the contest.                      

After missing almost the entirety of last season because of a fractured left tibia and dislocated ankle suffered in the season opener, Hayward has managed to maintain relatively good health throughout the 2018-19 campaign. He has appeared in 64 of his team's first 70 games. He has missed three games at various points because of ankle issues.

The 28-year-old entered Saturday's game averaging 11.0 points on 44.8 percent shooting, 4.3 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game. 

It took some time for Hayward to show signs of returning to form when he returned to the court following last season's gruesome leg injury—especially since he has been asked to come off the bench for the first time since 2011-12. However, he has seemed to come into his role of late, averaging 12.6 points over his last 13 appearances.

It was just 11 days ago that he recorded a season-high 30 points in a 128-95 victory over the two-time defending champs:

He followed that outburst up by hitting the game-winning shot to beat the Sacramento Kings in the following game.

The Celtics proved last season that they can make a deep playoff run without Hayward (and Kyrie Irving), as they came within one game of the 2018 NBA Finals despite having a pair of All-Stars sidelined. However, this season's Eastern Conference field appears to have more depth than recent years. 

Boston (42-27) currently sits in fifth place in the East, two games back of both the Philadelphia 76ers and the Indiana Pacers for the Nos. 3 and 4 seeds. While having home-court advantage in the first round could help make a path to the Finals easier, the Celtics need to prioritize Hayward's health down the stretch.