Marcus Smart

Celtics content to win ugly as Gordon Hayward-less stretch begins

Celtics content to win ugly as Gordon Hayward-less stretch begins

BOSTON — The Boston Celtics were the embodiment of “winning ugly” following Monday’s win over the Dallas Mavericks.

At one end of the team’s locker room, Kemba Walker and his still-sore neck — the one that forced him out of the final minutes of regulation after his scoring outburst helped Boston separate for a 116-106 triumph — struggled to locate his cell phone, and a handful of staffers were summonsed for a mini search party. A couple stalls down, a trainer dabbed at a small gash on Jaylen Brown’s forehead. Nearby, Jayson Tatum lounged in his chair and could only laugh while licking his emotional wounds from a historically bad 1-for-18 shooting night. 

At the front of the room, in front of a pack of cameras and microphones, Marcus Smart publicly declared that he’d like to stop being kicked in the groin during NBA games.

Yup, it wasn’t pretty -- and often painful. But on the same night that Gordon Hayward went under the knife to repair the fractured hand that will sideline him until Christmas, the Celtics got a little taste of how things are probably going to be the next 19 games.

Fortunately for Boston, all ended well. A locker room attendant found Walker’s cell phone hiding under a towel, Brown downplayed the head wound, Tatum trekked to the Auerbach Center for some late-night shooting, and Smart shrugged off his bruises while noting, “It's nothing new for me.”

Ultimately, it’s the Celtics kicking the rest of the league below the belt. Boston won its eighth straight game to move to an NBA-best 8-1 overall. These Celtics keep finding ways to win games even when they don’t play the crispest basketball.

Tatum became only the ninth player in NBA history to put up at least 18 shots in a regular season game and make only one (Mike Newlin’s 1-for-22 performance for Houston in 1973 remains the not-so gold standard for single-field goal nights). But even without Hayward and despite only getting five points in 35 minutes from Tatum, the Celtics found a way to stiff-arm the Mavericks when it mattered most.

They can thank Walker, who shrugged off a quiet first half (5 points on 2-of-6 shooting) before erupting for 24 second-half points on 7-of-11 shooting. 

That included a pair of crunch-time 3-pointers as part of a 10-point fourth quarter in which Walker did all his damage over just 3:39 before colliding with Luka Doncic and suffering what Brad Stevens termed “whiplash.” Walker hit a trio of triples in a 70-second span as Boston pushed its lead to seven before the injury that left trainers working on his neck on the sideline.

Walker, who entered the night fifth in the NBA in fourth-quarter scoring, had struggled in crunch time (games within five points, final five minutes) this season. He was a mere 2-of-11 shooting overall (18.2 percent) in crunch-time scenarios but produced a familiar Kardiac Kemba outburst.

"I missed a lot early but my shot felt good all night,” said Walker. "I was just missing and then, in the fourth quarter, it’s just, naturally, the competitive nature just comes out and trying to do what I can to put the ball in the basket.”

Brown, coming off his 30-point outburst in San Antonio, put together another encouraging night by putting up 25 points and 11 rebounds. By the end of the night, Doncic, a player that looks a lot like a future MVP, said of Brown: "He deserves the contract he got. He's a great player and he's a two-way player. He can play really good defense and really good offense. He's a great pick up by the Celtics.”

Brown said that, with Hayward out, the Celtics aren’t looking for style points.

"That’s what it’s about: Find ways to win, regardless,” said Brown. "The older we get as we go through this process — we’re getting older, me, [Tatum], guys that have been here, Smart. We know how to win, so we’ve just got to continue to do that and I think today was a good example of that.”

Like Brown, many Celtics did a little extra on Monday night. Smart took on the challenge (yet again) of guarding a big in Kristaps Porzingis and helped limit the unicorn to four points on 1-of-11 shooting. Daniel Theis played through a right pinky dislocation to finish plus-27 in 22 minutes. The bench struggled to maintain leads but Robert Williams, Grant Williams, Javonte Green, and Brad Wanamaker all had good moments. Enes Kanter played his first game at the Garden after missing the last seven with a bruised knee.

The Celtics are 8-1. It’s an unsustainable pace, particularly without Hayward, and yet this team honestly feels like it hasn’t come close to playing its best basketball, and certainly not for anywhere near 48 minutes. 

But it’s content to just keep winning ugly.

"We’re just playing, we’re not even worried about the record right now,” said Walker. "It’s a great record, don’t get it twisted. I’m loving it. We’re all loving it, that we’re able to win these games. We’re playing well. I honestly feel like we still have so much growth as a group and we know that as a group, which is really special to me.”

A. Sherrod Blakely's takeaways from Celtics' win over Mavericks>>>

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Marcus Smart looking 'to figure out a solution' after taking another shot to the groin

Marcus Smart looking 'to figure out a solution' after taking another shot to the groin

So far this season, Marcus Smart has been playing some of the toughest defense in the NBA. But it has come at a cost.

Smart has been taking some shots where it hurts, and Monday night was no exception. Against the Dallas Mavericks, Smart got kicked in the groin and went down in pain.

After the game, Smart had a lighthearted press conference where he said he needs to find a solution to that rather specific problem (via the Celtics on NBC Sports Boston Twitter account).

"[Taking a beating is] nothing new for me," Smart said. "I've been taking a beating my whole life. But I don't know what it is. I keep getting kicked in the groin. I don't know what it is about that. We've got to figure out a solution to stop that. I'm used to it. It's what I do, and I pride myself on that."

Part of the reason that Smart has taken so many shots is that he's guarding players much bigger than him. Against the Mavericks, Smart (6-foot-4) played a critical role in guarding the 7-foot-2 Kristaps Porzingis and was part of the reason the team held him to just four points on 1-of-11 shooting. 

Smart is one of the toughest guys in the league, so he won't complain much about taking some shots. But if he does keep guarding big men amid the Celtics' shortage of effective bigs, he'll have to find a way to avoid getting hit down there too much.

A. Sherrod Blakely's takeaways from Celtics' win over Mavericks>>>

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Who will benefit the most for the Celtics in Gordon Hayward's absence?

Who will benefit the most for the Celtics in Gordon Hayward's absence?

Don’t miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Wizards, which tips off Wednesday at 7:00 p.m. ET with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Mike & Tommy have the call of the game at 7:30 p.m. You can also stream the game through the MyTeams App.

*****

BOSTON -- There is an across-the-board empathy right now among Boston Celtics players and coaches for Gordon Hayward who will be out for about six weeks following surgery to repair a fourth metacarpal fracture in his left hand. 

But with Hayward’s unavailability comes opportunity for others, an all-too-common rally cry for the Boston Celtics this season with injuries/illnesses impacting them both in their already-thin frontcourt as well as among their perimeter players like Hayward. 

And it is that latter point - opportunity - that seems to resonate more than anything else with this Celtics team. 

Simply put, they have collectively vowed to ignore what they don’t have and instead focus on who’s available.

And as we saw in Boston’s 116-106 win over Dallas, the Celtics have a roster full of players chomping at the bit to gobble up those 30-plus minutes that used to belong to Hayward. 

Here’s a look at the four Celtics players who benefited the most from Hayward’s absence on Monday. 

Jaylen Brown

Brown led all Celtics in minutes played (38 minutes, nine seconds) on Monday, and his impact was felt all night. 

With Hayward around, we saw flashes of being an above average two-way standout from Brown.

But with Hayward sidelined, Brown seems to have taken his play at both ends of the floor to another level. He was among the Celtics who had a turn at making Luka Doncic (34 points, nine assists, six rebounds) work a lot harder to put his imprint on the game than he was used to. 

And it was Brown who maybe more than anyone else, really put the Celtics on the pathway to success with a strong start to the third quarter. 

With the score 54-all at the half, Boston opened the third with a 15-3 run which included Brown scoring seven of his 25 points for the night. 

Often forgotten in Hayward’s strong play has been him averaging more than seven rebounds per game, a career high. 

Brown filled that gap as well on Monday while grabbing a game-high 11 rebounds which gave him his first double-double this season. 

“Trying to win,” Brown told NBC Sports Boston’s Abby Chin shortly after Monday’s win, Boston’s eighth in a row. “I’m just trying to keep winning. Whatever we gotta do, I’m all for.”

Marcus Smart

Even with Gordon Hayward, Marcus Smart has done a solid job this season of balancing his scoring with his playmaking. On Monday, with Smart in the starting lineup for Hayward, it was more of the same as he finished with 17 points on an extremely efficient 6-for-9 shooting night akin to what we’ve seen from Hayward. Smart also dished out a team-high six assists. Smart has been at his best this season finding an assortment of ways to contribute to winning, whether it be shooting 3’s or his customary tough play defensively.

But what’s lost in his play with Hayward out, is Smart’s defense. There are a number of defensive switches that Smart is now involved in, that would have involved Hayward. That more times than not, is going to be to Boston’s benefit which was indeed the case on Monday when Smart found himself on multiple occasions having to defend Kristaps Porzingis who is 10 inches taller than Smart. 

Despite the height disadvantage, Porzingis was a non-factor in large part because of Smart’s defense which heavily factored in the 7-foot-2 big man finishing with more fouls committed (5) than points scored. 

“I just use my strength and my quickness,” Smart said. “He obviously has the height advantage over me. Really, for us it was keeping our hands back. He loves to do the sweep-through move.”

And the idea that teams will likely look to go at players with a significant height advantage on him … “keep it coming; plain and simple, keep it coming,” Smart said. 

Javonte Green

Summer league and preseason success doesn’t always translate to regular season rotation minutes, but that’s essentially the opportunity that’s presenting itself to Javonte Green. 

The 6-4 wing played a career-high 13 minutes and 25 seconds against Dallas before tallying nine points on 4-for-8 shooting to go with a career-high two steals. 

While more than holding his own prior to the regular season would provide a nice jolt of confidence to most, that was not the case with Green.

When he steps on to the court, he plays with the kind of confidence you don’t expect to see from a player who barely made the 15-man roster.

And with his knack for getting points quickly, he becomes an ideal addition to the rotation because of his ability to score on multiple levels in addition to having the kind of athleticism that delivers a highlight-quality play in no time that can be uplifting to the Celtics and deflating to foes. 

“I’ve been playing this game 20-plus years,” Green told NBC Sports Boston. “I just feel like I play my game, that’s the reason why I’m here and that’s what got me to where I’m at now.”

Brad Wanamaker

It was a bit of a head-scratcher to some when Brad Wanamaker decided to re-sign with the Celtics after having such a limited role a year ago. But nine games into the season and it’s clear why he wanted to be back and why the Celtics are glad he made that choice. 

Against the Mavericks, he came off the bench and scored a season-high 10 points on 4-for-7 shooting. He also had four rebounds and two assists without a single turnover. 

“That kid just knows how to play,” said Hall of Famer Tommy Heinsohn. “He’s a good, solid player when he’s out there.”

And it is that consistency as an additional playmaker that makes him an ideal add-on to the rotation with Hayward out. 

With a strong, 6-foot-3 frame, Wanamaker has the strength and lateral quickness to defend both guard positions and some small-ball small forwards, too. And when he’s switched out on a bigger player, similar to Marcus Smart, Wanamaker is able to use his strength to at least compete and not make it a given that the bigger player will score. 

A. Sherrod Blakely's takeaways from Celtics' win over Mavericks>>>

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