The games have been coming so fast and furious inside the bubble that we haven’t had time to rip open the Celtics Mailbag since the restart. So let’s turn the painfully long ramp to Game 4 into a positive and dive into some of your letters on the state of the green:
Is Gordon Hayward all the Celtics need to get to the NBA Finals? — @rdamon42
At the risk of oversimplifying, it’s funny how much better a team can look when it has all of its top players available. Even while shaking rust, Hayward provided a stabilizing force and I thought there were multiple instances where his presence was key to Boston catching themselves during rough patches.
What’s more, we got a glimpse at just how good that “Best 5” lineup of Kemba Walker, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, and Hayward can be — at least in a series where Boston can get away with going small. It’s a lineup that really struggled for much of the season but it’s so rich with skill that it puts a tremendous amount of stress on Miami’s perimeter defense.
A healthy Hayward simply changes the equation for Boston. He’s another high IQ guy who can bust that zone when Miami rolls it out. He can steady second-unit lineups. All that said, Hayward couldn’t fully prevent Boston from falling into familiar traps like fumbling away big leads. But his presence certainly raises Boston’s ceiling and at least gives them a chance of fighting out of what has typically been a daunting 0-2 hole (even if each of the previous two East champs did it).
What a complete bust and dumpster fire Gordon Hayward is. The last guy that stole this much money from Boston was Whitey Bulger — @Truth67001527
This is something I’ve been pondering a lot since Game 3: What would it take for Hayward to flip the narrative of his time in green. For the past three years, the story with Hayward has fixated on all the time he’s missed due to injury. Right as he’s playing some of his best basketball in green this year, injuries twice put him on the sideline. Even as he returned to the bubble, the big obsession was whether he’d depart again for the birth of his fourth child and miss more playoff time. He’s since noted he plans to stay with the team for the duration of its playoff run.
So we’re left wondering if, say, Hayward helps the Celtics rally back in this series and propels them into the Finals, is that enough for the Hayward critics to change how he’s viewed? It feels like there’s a chance for Hayward to re-write the story of his Boston tenure — regardless of what happens beyond this season — if he’s a key part of giving them at least a chance to play for Banner 18.
Do you think Hayward moves back into the starting lineup and Smart goes back to the bench? Why can’t they figure out this zone? They have been struggling with this the whole playoffs. Also, I went to Tantasqua and you will always be the Dandies to me. — @JamieGrant33
I think the bench is perfect for Hayward as he ramps back up here. Smart can still open the game checking a primary offensive threat and establishing a defensive tone, then Hayward gets to steady the reserve groups and be more of an offensive focal point. But I’m not sure it matters much in the end.
A healthy Hayward means the Celtics are going to lean extra heavy on their top 6 guys and, if Hayward is going to play 30+ minutes in his first game back from injury, then he’s most definitely going to see a starter-like load of minutes as this thing goes along.
Tyler Herro vs Romeo Langford. One pick away. — @mondellosal
Langford might very well be a fantastic pro but certainly this series isn’t making it any easier for Celtics fans wondering how dangerous this team would be if Herro had blossomed the way he has for Miami in his rookie season. Not only has Herro ben fantastic this entire playoffs but Langford got injured 81 seconds into a cameo in this series, which only accentuates his health woes during his first season.
But you know who’s probably happiest that Boston didn’t land Herro: The Philadelphia 76ers. The Celtics were in the lottery last summer because of the pick they got from the Sacramento Kings as part of the deal to move back in the 2018 draft when Boston snagged Jayson Tatum at No. 3. Imagine if poor Philadelphia had to reconcile with essentially parting with Tatum AND Herro to select Markelle Fultz.
What’s frustrating for Celtics fans it that it was a coin flip that essentially put Miami in position to nab Herro at 13. The Kings, Heat, and Hornets all finished with matching 39-43 records during the 2018-19 season, which meant the NBA had to conduct a three-way coin flip for the final three spots in the lottery. Charlotte slotted at 12, Miami at 13, and Sacramento at 14.
Here’s the extra gut punch: The Celtics beat Miami twice in April of 2019. Boston was trying to fend off Indiana in the standings so they needed those wins but when you're dissecting how a single win or loss could have swung the draft order, it’s notable.
Now, there’s no guarantee that Boston would have selected Herro at 13 but, from our broadcast position inside the Auerbach Center on draft night, we swore we heard a few grumbles a short time before the Herro pick was announced. And there were reports before the draft that Herro had impressed Boston during his workouts.
We can revisit in a couple years when we have a better grasp on what sort of player Langford can be. But early returns have Celtics fans steamed at Pat Riley for swooping in like that.
Can we just play Game 4, like now? Please? — @conor6x
It’s a brutal break but the Celtics have tried to put a positive spin on it, particularly the additional time for Hayward to recover after playing 30+ minutes in his return from a grade III ankle sprain. It could also work in favor of Kemba Walker, who has put some miles on that balky knee since the playoffs started. Said Marcus Smart: "For us, it’s a blessing right now. We’ve got Gordon Hayward back. He’s dealing with an injury. We’ve got a lot of guys banged up so it just really gives us an opportunity for our bodies to re-heal and rejuvenate and get ready for a grind in Game 4 and try to even this series.”
This break has been fantastic for my mental health lol. I have no questions, no inquires. I just want to meditate and get myself ready for the more intense hell fire to come #InSmartITrust — @BodegaLaw
I have to think that blood pressure medication refills in New England have spiked the last couple weeks. Between the Celtics and Patriots, it was a nailbiting-filled weekend.
The Celtics’ ability to consistently fumble away double-digit leads is truly wild, though. Brad Stevens noted after Game 3 that, "a 17-point lead on Miami is like 8.” Still, Boston has to make things easier on itself. And, as far as trusting Smart, the Celtics were very fortunate he drew that whistle on Duncan Robinson with 46.9 seconds to go after rushing up an off-balance floater early in the clock. That’s the sort of ill-advised shot that teammates might have grumbled to Smart about before the Game 2 flareup.
I wish the C’s would use Robert Williams more against Bam Adebayo. — @ctpete333
We’re likewise curious how Williams might hold up, even if just in small bursts. Stevens’ reluctance with Timelord makes us wonder if he’s simply not sold on his ability to avoid defensive lapses. The Celtics have been able to utilize Enes Kanter when the Heat go to Kelly Olynyk so it limits the chances Williams might get.
What’s more, the Celtics have been able to get away with small-ball lineups with Adebayo on the floor so if they can lean on the Best 5 group and sprinkle in some Grant Williams then maybe Stevens can keep Rob Williams as a break-in-case-of-emergency curveball option should the Celtics need to really roll the dice later in this series.
Over/Under on minutes played by Semi Ojeleye for rest of playoffs? — @sethrobbins77
I suppose there’s always the possibility of minutes if Brown or the bigs are in foul trouble and the Celtics need someone who can hold up against Adebayo over short minutes. Alas, Ojeleye’s offensive limitations make it tough to play him if he’s not making 3s, especially if Miami is zone heavy. Hayward’s return simply limits the need to lean on players outside Boston’s core rotation.
Why is Brad so reluctant to use coaches challenge? There have been a ton of reversals. — @hendy73
The easy joke here is: Because he loses them all. But I think he errs on the side of caution because he wants to 1) Preserve all his timeouts in case they are needed and 2) He’s rarely going to burn a challenge early unless it’s a huge momentum swing in the game. There’s been instances where coaches waste their challenge and then a ball ticks off someone’s hands in crunch time and they have no means to get a look at it. The use-it-or-lose-it mentality can be risky but certainly he should consider it more in momentum situations.
I love our roster and basically don’t want anything to change for the 2020-21 season. How likely is it that our top 8-9 guys stay, and does the lower salary cap next year impact the C's plan at all? — @evantarrh
Operating with the assumption that Hayward is almost certainly opting into the final season of his deal, the top end of this roster should look almost identical. Among rotation players, only Hayward ($34.2 million) and Kanter ($5 million) hold player options. The back end could see a slight overhaul as the Celtics have a team option on Ojeleye ($1.8 million) while Javonte Green is on a nonguaranteed deal ($1.5 million).
Boston could use its midlevel to seek additional bench shooting, big depth, or a veteran ball-handler (or Boston could simply re-sign Brad Wanamaker, who has a $1.8 million qualifying offer). But we suspect the roster will look quite similar and the trajectory of the season will dictate if the team has to make tougher decisions on personnel, or simply deal with the pain of spending into the luxury tax to support a championship-caliber squad.
Does Tremont Waters get the Wanamaker minutes next year? — @c_m_hood
Credit to Wanamaker, he’s been really steady in the bubble. If you told me a few months ago that the Celtics were going to have to lean on him for 18 minutes per game, especially with Hayward sidelined, I might have been concerned about Boston's ability to win those minutes. But they have. Wanamaker is plus-20 in 246 playoff minutes, he’s shot 46.2 percent on his 3-point attempts, he’s made his free throws at a high rate, and he typically thrives in transition.
More than anything, he’s been able to win Stevens’ trust, even on the playoff stage. Waters is intriguing, especially because of his playmaking prowess, but the Celtics might need a more veteran presence at that spot. The offseason market might dictate whether Boston can get a championship-chasing vet at a low price, or maybe the team simply retains Wanamaker at a value price point.
Assuming Lakers and Celtics pass......how we feeling? — @iss_a_joke
A rivalry renewed?! A decade after their last Finals meeting?! It’s certainly fun to think about. But the Celtics got a lot of work ahead of them. Now if Game 4 would just get here.