Celtics

2020 NBA Restart: Celtics hoping for consistency from Gordon Hayward

2020 NBA Restart: Celtics hoping for consistency from Gordon Hayward

Drives to the basket. 

Pull-up jumpers.

Rebounds followed by dribbling end-to-end for what ends in a bucket for himself or a teammate. 

That is the Gordon Hayward Boston Celtics fans saw prior to the NBA season being put on pause back in March, a player that looked, played and impacted the game in a way that served as a reminder to all just how big a difference-maker he can be on any given night. 

Which is why the Celtics remain cautiously optimistic about Hayward’s potential impact on the team as they gear up for their first game during the league’s re-start, against the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday.

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Boston’s three scrimmages were nothing more than glorified practices for Hayward and company, so there’s really nothing of significance to glean from them. 

But there was no ignoring that Hayward, at least in Boston’s last two regular season games before the NBA's stoppage of play, was delivering at an elite level despite the small sample size. In those two games, he averaged 25.5 points to go with 7.5 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.5 blocks while shooting 50 percent (19-for-38) from the field along with being just as lethal (7-for-14) from 3-point range. 

That strong finish came after what had been a solid season for the veteran forward.

The former All-Star has appeared in 45 games (all starts) this season, averaging 17.3 points, 6.5 rebounds and 4.1 assists while shooting 50.2 percent from the field and 39.2 percent from 3-point range. All of those numbers except for games played (He appeared in 72 games during the 2018-2019 season), are the best numbers Hayward has posted since becoming a Celtic.

But as we’ve seen from strong showings in limited doses by Hayward in the past, getting too high is a huge mistake if for no other reason than it creates a level of expectation that Hayward — at least thus far — has not shown the ability to maintain with any level of consistency. 

When Boston signed him in the summer of 2017, the thinking was he would be either option 1A or 1B for the team. But the departure of Kyrie Irving followed by the arrival of Kemba Walker and the unexpected growth of both Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown has left the 30-year-old Hayward in a very different role than what many had envisioned. 

He’s an important cog in the Celtics machine, for sure. But now it seems that Boston will lean on him more for his versatility than any particular individual strength. 

Hayward, like all of the players in Orlando, Fla., is adjusting to life in the Bubble. 

The 6-foot-8 forward recently blogged about his time there, discussing how much he misses his family, running into other players from other teams (“It’s almost like passing period in high school,” he said), all the different rules of the land.

And as expected, Hayward also talked about gaming, which has been a passion of his for quite some time. But Hayward knows all too well what most fans want to know about … the team.

“Right now we’re definitely deep in the process of finding our rhythm and finding our groove to get back to where we were,” Hayward wrote. “Each day it’s getting better. Obviously, I think everyone was a little bit rusty initially trying to work back into things. But so far, it’s been good. There have definitely been those moments where something clicks and it feels like it did back in March."

Hayward added, “With some of the play calls, once you do them and you watch them on film, you’re like, ‘Oh yeah, I remember this now. I got it.’ And you get back into that basketball mode. That’s a lot of fun.”

Celtics Talk Podcast: Is Jaylen Brown going to dominate the bubble? | Listen & subscribe | Watch on YouTube

The same could be said for Hayward putting together a string of consistent performances similar to what we saw from him in the final few games prior to the league’s stoppage of play. 

With Tatum and Walker drawing so much attention — with Brown not too far behind — there will be opportunities for Hayward to make a significant impact. 

Hayward has had a series of injuries during his time in Boston, but appears to be as healthy now as he has been since donning a Celtics uniform. His ability to avoid the injury bug will create the kind of matchup problems that Boston has to find a way to take advantage of on a night-in, night-out basis. 

Hayward’s knack for scoring from a number of spots on the floor along with his much-improved rebounding and underrated playmaking is exactly what the Celtics need from him during the season reboot. 

Because in the team’s quest to be the last team standing and bring Banner 18 to Boston, it’ll take the efforts of many to step their game up and deliver the kind of change needed to be successful. 

Hayward has the potential to be just that guy for Boston. 

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Bucks, which begins Friday at 5:30 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live followed by tip-off at 6:30 p.m. You can also stream on the MyTeams App.

Enes Kanter Show: Celtics center praises Brad Stevens for explanation of less playing time

Enes Kanter Show: Celtics center praises Brad Stevens for explanation of less playing time

The Boston Celtics committed to Brad Stevens with a contract extension earlier this week, and it isn't difficult to see why.

The C's head coach has received rave reviews from players and staff who have had the opportunity to work alongside him in Boston over the last seven years. Not only has Stevens done a phenomenal job leading the team on the court, but possibly even more importantly, he's been able to connect with his players off of it.

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-76ers, which begins Monday at 5:30 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live followed by tip-off at 6:30 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.

In a brand new episode of the Enes Kanter Show, the Celtics center explains to Chris Forsberg what makes Stevens such a great head coach.

Enes Kanter Show: Celtics’ dodgeball games and getting ready to joust with Joel Embiid and the Sixers | Listen & subscribe | Watch on YouTube

"What makes him so special is what he does off the court," Kanter said about Stevens. "He's the type of coach that tells you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear. Always keeps it 100 percent real with you. More than a coach, he's just a friend, man. You can literally go to talk to him about anything."

Kanter, who has seen his minutes reduced lately in the Orlando bubble, praised Stevens for how he communicated with him about his decrease in playing time.

"There were some games where I was not playing a lot," said Kanter. "I went to his room and we talked, and he was like, 'Hey, listen, it's your ninth year now and there's so many young guys that are looking up to you. Your best strength is not the offensive rebound. Your best strength is not the post-ups, not the finishes and everything. Your best strength is just being a good teammate. Just trying to give positive energy. And that's what we need from you in the games where you don't play.'

"I mean, look, not every coach is comfortable talking to their players. The Celtics organization definitely feels very special to have him on our side ... It's a blessing to have a person like him on our team."

Also discussed on the show: The story behind the Celtics' dodgeball game in the bubble, Kanter's frustration at Jayson Tatum "being good at everything," and how the Celtics can slow down Joel Embiid.

You can listen and subscribe to The Enes Kanter Show here, or watch on YouTube.

Celtics-76ers preview: What will Philly miss most from Ben Simmons?

Celtics-76ers preview: What will Philly miss most from Ben Simmons?

As we saw throughout most of Philadelphia’s seeding games, the 76ers losing Ben Simmons (left knee surgery) for the season was a huge blow. 

It’s one of the main reasons why the Boston Celtics are overwhelming favorites over their Eastern Conference rival in the teams' first-round playoff series, which begins on Monday.

So where will Simmons' absence be felt the most?

Defense

For all the impressive things Simmons does with the basketball, the Sixers will miss him most on the defensive side.

The 6-foot-10 Simmons boasts length, size and lateral quickness that causes problems for opponents offensively because of his pick-and-roll defensive potential that’s on display most nights.

Against the Celtics, Simmons spends most of his time on the floor guarding Boston’s top scorer, Jayson Tatum. 

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-76ers, which begins Monday at 5:30 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live followed by tip-off at 6:30 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.

In the four games the two teams played this season, three of which were won by Philly, Simmons limited Tatum’s impact each time. 

According to NBA.com/stats, Tatum shot 31.3 percent (5-for-16) in games in which he was guarded by Simmons this season. 

So, if Tatum puts up big-time numbers in this series, no one should be surprised considering the Sixers player who has consistently done the best job at defending him won’t be on the floor.

Offensive mismatches

A point guard trapped in a big man's body, Simmons has speed and strength that creates matchup problems on the perimeter as well as on the post.

The 24-year-old averaged 16.4 points along with 7.8 rebounds and 8.0 assists this season while shooting a team-best 58 percent from the field.

Celtics Talk Podcast: The Al Horford conundrum and why Sixers won’t last long vs. Celtics | Listen & subscribe | Watch on YouTube

Simmons’ shooting range has been a topic of discussion for as long as he has been in the NBA. And while it creates a different kind of challenge for the Sixers when it comes to running their offense, the third-year pro has shown himself to be talented enough to still be a high-impact, difference-maker for Philly.

Playmaking

Soon after the Sixers arrived in the bubble, head coach Brett Brown talked about how the team was planning to play Simmons more at power forward to better utilize his versatility and create better spacing for the team’s perimeter shooters.

Like most of what the Sixers have tried to do this season, the few times we saw Simmons in that role it didn’t work. But his absence creates an even bigger hole when it comes to playmaking.

Shake Milton has moved into the starting lineup after putting together a string of impressive performances prior to the league being suspended in March.

However, his impact was greatest as a scorer, which is different from what he is being charged with now. Milton is averaging 12.5 points as a starter this season to go with 2.9 rebounds and 3.9 assists. 

No one is expecting him to put up Simmons-like numbers, but the more you watch Milton play and try to run Philly's offense, the clearer it becomes just how much Simmons’ presence is missed.