BOSTON — Al Horford had just finished an on-court interview when he spotted a handful of teammates creeping towards Gordon Hayward, grins on their faces and cups of water in their hands. Horford knew what was coming so he excitedly beelined to the bench, grabbed the first cup he could find, and raced to join the pack that was about to douse Hayward following his monster night on Saturday in Minnesota.
But as Horford turned over his cup, he realized he didn’t have water. And, well, we’ll let him explain from here.
“When I was walking off I saw Marcus Morris -- I think he was probably the one that instigated [the decision to surprise Hayward] -- and some of the other guys, Semi [Ojeleye], Brad [Wanamaker], [Guerschon Yabusele], and they all had water and I was like, ‘Oh shoot,’ and I ran over to get some.
"I was in such a rush that I ended up getting Gatorade. That’s some conditioner for his hair right there.”
Hayward, emerging from the locker room before Tuesday’s practice, spotted a giggling Horford as he finished his story and just shook his head, no traces that the blue liquid stained his golden locks.
It was just a few weeks ago that Horford seemed notably rattled by Boston’s early-season struggles and he was emphatic when he noted that he had never experienced anything as maddening as the team’s uneven start to a season overflowing with expectations.
Winning has a way of curing what ails a team. And while the Celtics know better than to suggest that all their concerns are behind them, it’s impossible to ignore the good vibes emanating from the Auerbach Center, the product of a three-game win streak that culminated with Hayward’s impromptu bath.
Not only are the Celtics starting to find their way a bit on the court but, while fighting through the early season adversity, they seem to be growing closer off the floor. And that’s why more than half the team rushed to celebrate Hayward’s big night before he even reached the locker room.
“We're starting to build chemistry,” Horford told NBC Sports Boston. "It’s different. People think you’ll pick up right where you left off. But this is a new group. We’re building it and guys are genuinely happy for [Hayward]. It was good to see.
"I think this group, [the early season struggles are] making us stronger. Going through that adversity, some people can be divided. As tough as it was, that’s going to help us.”
Marcus Smart, who has given the Celtics an energy-jolt since both he and Marcus Morris elevated to the starting lineup, said there’s a palpable difference in the energy in the locker room now.
“Everybody's not hanging their heads. It's a little bit more daylight in the locker room, and it's good to see everybody smiling,” said Smart.
Pressed on why the Celtics were so frustrated, Smart added, "It was just hanging their heads in the fact where they couldn’t understand what was going on either. Everybody's trying to find a way to come up with wins and why we were losing. Nobody could find a solution, so we were all just upset -- not at each other, but just with the situation we were all handed.”
The Celtics are not out of the woods. They’ve feasted on lesser competition during this win streak and Stevens said his team had to improve a defense that has seen some slippage as the offense starts to click a bit more (at least when Kyrie Irving is on the floor). The team must reintegrate Jaylen Brown starting Thursday night and that will force head coach Brad Stevens to juggle the rotation a bit.
But there’s something to be said for the chemistry being built. And it’s why Stevens saw the water (and Gatorade) dump as a positive for his team.
“If you don’t get there as a team, you’re in trouble,” Stevens said after Saturday’s game, referencing the need for chemistry. “It's good to see your teammates do that. Again, I hope we can build off of it. That's the bottom line.”
The focus is on what’s ahead but Hayward’s moment was a chance to reflect on the journey to that point. There’s a certain satisfaction that comes with overcoming adversity, particularly when you consider his 13-month journey to that point.
His teammates savored that moment as much as he did.
“Oh, it’s great,” said Horford. "When he came here, I knew that’s what we were going to expect from him, that was the kind of player he was going to be. It doesn’t mean he’s going to be like this every time now but that’s who Gordon Hayward is.
"I think that we all just need to keep being patient but I just like his aggressiveness. Him being assertive like that. That was fun to see.”
And these Celtics desperately needed a little fun.
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