Celtics

Reporter's Notebook: Hayward returns, Grant shines in must-win Game 3

Celtics

*Editor's Note: The Celtics are back in the Eastern Conference finals after Saturday's wire-to-wire victory in Game 3 pushed their series with the Miami Heat to 1-2. NBC Sports Boston's Abby Chin shares her observations from Boston's 117-106 win.

Hayward not leaving bubble?

The Celtics couldn’t have asked for much more in Gordon Hayward’s first game back.

The versatile forward, coming off a Grade III ankle sprain and playing for the first time in over a month, logged 31 minutes and provided what Brad Stevens called a “stabilizing force” for the team. The biggest news of the night, though, is that Hayward isn’t planning to leave the NBA bubble for the birth of his fourth child.

He confirmed that after the game telling reporters, “We discussed it, we prayed about it, and I think it’s probably best if I stay here and help our team.”

Hayward pointed out that the “lucky” timing of the injury allowed him to go home and get some unexpected time with his family. 

I have been a staunch supporter of players and coaches taking the time they need to prioritize their families. A few years back, I was not okay with Michael Felger criticizing Al Horford for missing a game -- a regular season game by the way -- to be with his wife for the birth of their third child.

Forsberg: Hayward returns just in time, says he's here to stay

My opinion hasn’t changed.

I believe people have the right to do what’s best for them and their families, regardless of their profession. If the Haywards feel this is what’s best for their family, I am all for it. That just happens to also be what’s best for the team. As Kemba Walker said, “It was really, really good to have him back.” 

The Game 2 outburst aftermath

Of course, the biggest question going into Game 3 was how would this group -- their four leaders in Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Kemba Walker in particular -- respond to a tumultuous 48 hours?

Reports of late-night meetings and follow-up phone calls after the blowup inside the locker room Thursday night continued up until tip-off. The Celtics came out aggressive, connected on defense and got the win.

I asked both Brown and Tatum what they were willing to share about what this team went through the last couple days.

Tatum, who told me on Thursday night that what happens in the locker room stays in the locker room, shared this: “Anybody that's played sports, played in a team game, we're not supposed to be happy being down 0-2. If you are, then you don't care. We care about this. Basketball is a game of emotions. So, we want guys to be frustrated, be upset, to care. It's nothing personal. We just have to figure some things out. It's nothing more than that.”

Celtics Talk Podcast: After Game 3 victory, are the Celtics winning this series vs. Heat? | Listen & subscribe | Watch on YouTube

Brown said, “It was probably blown out of proportion. We are in a bubble, it’s a lot of grown men, a lot of passion and emotion going on, but at the end of the day we’re a family, we represent this organization, we represent each other. We won’t let anything ever come in between that. We have a tremendous opportunity and we understand that. Ain’t nothing is going to stop us from trying to maximize that.”

 

Tatum and Brown combined for 51 points in what was unquestionably a must-win game for the Celtics. The true test of this team, though, will come in Game 4, when Miami is showing that same grit and resolve.

Miami comebacks

The Heat overcame double-digit deficits in both Game 1 and Game 2 of this series. So, late in the third quarter when the Celtics were up 18, our associate producer Mark Hazlett, who is one of the real geniuses behind graphics like this, joked, "Miami is saying to themselves right now, 'We’ve got ‘em right where we want ‘em.' "

From there the Heat rattled off an 11-1 run, aided by Boston missing three straight baskets at the rim. Three straight missed bunnies! That shouldn’t happen in the Eastern Conference finals. The Celtics, showing that resolve Tatum and Brown spoke about, answered with a 7-0 run of their own, something we didn’t see in the first two games. I mention Mark’s comment because I almost hit a bunny on my drive home early Sunday morning and all I could think was, that’s the only bunny you ever want to miss. #amiright?

Grant Williams shines

In case you didn’t know, Grant Williams has been shooting lights out from 3 in the post season, hitting 10 of 16 shots from long range, good for 63 percent. This from a guy who started his NBA career 0-for-25 from beyond the arc.

Talking to Williams over the season, I can tell you that the 22nd pick in draft never lost confidence in his shot and he understands that he’s got to make them in the Playoffs to stay on the floor.

Williams knows his role. He told me recently, “It’s all about coming in playing with energy and doing the little things that other guys can’t do because of all the other roles they have. I just have to keep that mentality and hopefully supplement it in many different ways, whether it’s on the offensive glass getting put backs or knocking down an open three.” 

The reserve big man got a lot of love on the game broadcast Saturday night with the great Mike Breen talking about all of the intangibles Williams brings. That should include the fact that he’s completely assumed all rookie duties and continues to do so inside the bubble more than a year after he was drafted. Williams was pictured carrying two big bags of food off the bus before Game 4. Fellow rookie Romeo Langford told me that Grant has just taken over all rookie tasks.

The vets don’t even call Romeo any more. They know Grant will take care of it.