Paul George on Gordon Hayward: 'He knows I've got his back'

BOSTON -- Oklahoma City Thunder forward Paul George, who has lent support from afar throughout Gordon Hayward's recovery from a gruesome opening-night ankle injury, said he's excited by Hayward's progress and believes the Celtics forward is at the point where he no longer needs George's guidance.

George, who returned from his own horrific leg injury late in the 2014-15 season, has been a guide of sorts during Hayward's recovery. The two had communicated often as Hayward navigated the early stages of his recuperation.

"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 on 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."

Celtics coach Brad Stevens suggested earlier this month that Hayward will not play this season, but Hayward himself has left the door open for a possible return. Hayward is hopeful to soon begin running on his own body weight, and he has begun doing small jumps during his shooting drills.

Hayward had to slow his recovery process recently after ramping up a bit too fast, and George was all too familiar with the experience.

"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."

George noted how it took him about a month after being medically cleared to return to game action. If the Celtics engage in a long playoff run, it might increase the likelihood of Hayward's return to the court, though no one in the Celtics organization has said they expect him back this season.

"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."