Celtics

Clippers-Celtics Takeaways: Gordon Hayward as clutch as ever in C's big win over Clippers

Clippers-Celtics Takeaways: Gordon Hayward as clutch as ever in C's big win over Clippers

Gordon Hayward has had better games than what we saw on Thursday against the Los Angeles Clippers.

But few compare to how clutch he was in Boston’s 141-133 double overtime win over the Clippers.

Jayson Tatum, Marcus Smart and Kemba Walker were huge most of the game for the Celtics, but it was all Hayward in the decisive second overtime period.

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Hayward made a 3-pointer in the second overtime period that put Boston ahead 137-132.

He would finish the game with 21 points, seven of which came in the second overtime period.

To put that in perspective, Hayward's seven points scored in the second overtime was more than the entire Clippers team (6 points) scored in that session, and equalled the point total of the rest of the Celtics in the second OT.

Moments after his 3-pointer that put Boston ahead by five points, Hayward blocked a driving lay-up attempt by Lou Williams that went out of bounds and went off of Williams.

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Hayward, who also had 13 points, four assists and a blocked shot, would later take a 3-pointer, miss it, and wound up with the loose ball as part of his team-high 13 rebound total.

He wasn’t done.

With the Clippers’ chances at a comeback win dwindling, Hayward was able to put the game away by stealing an in-bounds pass to Williams and was soon back at the free throw line after being fouled.

Hayward's play was a reminder of how this Celtics team has navigated successful play most of this season.

While there were others who put up better numbers than Hayward, his play down the stretch when the game was on the line was indeed one of the keys to the Celtics (38-16) going into the All-Star break with wins in eight of their last nine games, and 11 of 13.

JAYSON TATUM

The first-time All-Star dazzled the TD Garden crowd with one of his best performances of the season. It’s easy to lock in on Tatum scoring a game-high 39 points on 14-for-23 shooting along with his nine rebounds.

But just as impressive was his defense as part of the multi-player attack when it comes to guarding Kawhi Leonard who had 28 points but did so on 10-for-27 shooting.

The confidence that he's playing with is on a level that's only going to continue leveling up with time. And experiences like what we saw on Thursday when for long stretches, Tatum outplayed the reigning NBA Finals MVP and anyone else who set foot on the TD Garden floor, will become more common.

LOU WILLIAMS

One of the best professional scorers in the NBA, the Celtics had trouble keeping up with Williams all game.

As prolific as Jayson Tatum was scoring the ball, Williams held his own scoring most of the game as well.

He would lead the Clippers with 35 points off the bench - more points than the entire Celtics’ second unit scored (19).

MARCUS SMART

With Jaylen Brown (left calf contusion) out, Boston once again found itself in search of someone needing to step up and fill a void. Smart was that guy, finishing with a career-high 31 points which included making five 3-pointers.

We talk a lot about what Smart does defensively, and for good reason: he’s a hell of a defender.

But Smart is steadily trending towards being a solid two-way player who is showing the ability to significantly impact the game both with his shot and as we’ve seen for years, his defense.

KAWHI LEONARD

Kawhi Leonard had 28 points on 10-for-27 shooting, to go with nine rebounds. Good numbers for any player.

But here’s the thing.

Kawhi Leonard, on this night, wasn’t the best player on the floor.

That was Jayson Tatum.

Come to think of it, he wasn’t the second- best player, either.

That was Lou Williams.

And a strong case could be made that in addition to those two, Marcus Smart was just as good - or better - than Leonard.

Maybe his mind was already on the All-Star break, because the usually dominant player that we usually see on both ends of the floor, wasn’t quite himself.

Hindsight 2020: Would more Jayson Tatum have pushed Celtics to NBA Finals in 2018?

Hindsight 2020: Would more Jayson Tatum have pushed Celtics to NBA Finals in 2018?

Jayson Tatum was in his basketball bag, giving LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers all they could handle. 

He was scoring in an efficient manner (24 points on 9-for-17 shooting), rebounding the ball (seven rebounds) and making big shots.

And he was doing this on one of the biggest stages of them all: Game 7 of the 2018 Eastern Conference Finals.

A 3-pointer by Tatum put the Celtics ahead 72-71 with six minutes to play, a shot that capped off a Tatum surge in which he had scored seven of Boston’s last nine points. 

And then … nothing. 

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He took only one shot after that and missed it, going scoreless for the rest of the game.

The Celtics that year were a team that leaned on whoever had the hot hand. 

But on this particular night, they needed help figuring out who that was in the closing minutes — and in hindsight, head coach Brad Stevens should have stepped in and done more to implore his team to get the ball to Tatum in a better position to score. 

However Stevens stuck to what had worked so well for so long with this group: letting this young band of ballers figure out on their own who to lean on when it mattered most, as contributions seemed to come from a new player on a nightly basis.

But on this stage with all that was at stake, they absolutely needed Stevens to implore them to go to Tatum … a lot. 

And now, two years later, the domino effect of that game’s outcome is still felt. 

Brad Stevens has been at the helm for seven years here in Boston and ranks among the franchise’s winningest coaches ever. 

But in that Game 7 in 2018, the Celtics were less than six minutes away from getting to the NBA Finals, which is as close as this franchise has come to winning a title during Stevens' reign. 

When you look at the overall body of work since Stevens arrived in Boston in 2013, there are very few instances in which a decision or non-decision on his part stands out in a bad way. 

But this was one of those times. 

Yes, the Celtics were playing without Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, who were both sidelined with injuries. 

And yes, there are undeniable benefits in having so many young players step their game up despite being without a pair of All-Stars in Irving and Hayward. 

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But as we’ve seen here in Boston and throughout the NBA, getting to the NBA Finals is not guaranteed for any team regardless of how much promise they show going forward.

And to be as close as they were at that time, there’s no way to completely move on from that sting of missing out — other than to take that next step and actually reach the Finals. 

You can go through all the missed shots and free throws and blown assignments defensively and find factors that led to Boston coming up short in that game.

But none looms larger than the Celtics' inability to put Tatum in a better position to score the ball in the final minutes. 

While the pain from that loss has in many ways helped Boston’s young core grow, the gains for the Celtics and the Tatum-Brown tandem would have been even greater had that group as they were constructed advanced to the Finals. 

When it comes to players making plays when it counts, of course it’s ultimately on them to deliver. 

But efforts must be made to best position players to come through in the clutch, the one thing in hindsight the Celtics could have done a better job in what was — and still is — the toughest loss for this franchise in the Stevens era.

2020 NBA Mock Draft 4.0: Teams still on schedule for June

2020 NBA Mock Draft 4.0: Teams still on schedule for June

The NBA season may be at a standstill, but that won’t slow NBA teams down from preparing for the upcoming draft that’s currently slated for June 25. 

While this draft is short on star power like this year’s NBA rookie class, which includes Zion Williamson of New Orleans, Ja Morant in Memphis and New York’s R.J. Barrett, all of whom turned in strong first seasons in the NBA, there’s still plenty of talent to pick over in the coming weeks. 

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And the Celtics will get their shot — make that shots, plural — with three first-round picks this year. 

Here’s a look at the Celtics’ possible draft plans as well as those of the rest of the NBA in the latest NBC Sports Boston NBA Mock Draft. 

Click here for the gallery.