Gordon Hayward avoids foul out, takes advantage of time

Gordon Hayward avoids foul out, takes advantage of time

BOSTON — When Boston Celtics forward Gordon Hayward picked up his fifth personal foul with 1:41 remaining in the first half of Sunday’s exhibition tilt with the Charlotte Hornets, members of the Celtics coaching staff could be seen giving him some playful grief from the sideline.

“There was a small part of me that was hoping he would have fouled out in the first half,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens deadpanned later. “I thought that would have been funny.”

Luckily for Hayward, he avoided a sixth whistle and produced maybe his most encouraging stretch of preseason play early in the third quarter. That included a highlight-worthy chasedown block that earned a standing ovation from the Garden faithful and offered a reminder of Hayward’s potential impact as he works his way back from a fractured ankle.

Playing only his second game in a Celtics uniform inside TD Garden, including the first here in nearly a full year’s time, Hayward finished with 4 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists over 21:15 in Boston’s 115-112 triumph over the Hornets.

But it was the chasedown block that might have been the most signature moment of the night.

Charlotte’s Jeremy Lamb had jumped a pass intended for Hayward and broke out in transition. Jaylen Brown raced back to contest and, even though he overpursued, it forced Lamb to slow up and gather the ball near the free-throw line. That allowed Hayward to race from behind and his right-handed swat sent the ball sailing from near the cylinder to the Charlotte bench.

"I think each time I do something new that I haven’t done, it definitely builds more confidence for me, just from a physical standpoint, knowing my leg is stable and is going to hold up,” said Hayward.

"That was the first time I’ve [had a chasedown block]. So there’s things that I haven’t done yet. I haven’t had to chase down anybody like in practice or anything, so in the game setting there’s definitely things I’m doing for the first time and figuring it back out. So I think if it just happens, that’s a good thing.”

What happened after the block may have been just as remarkable as the swat. A now-off-balanced Hayward landed hard on his surgically repaired left ankle on the baseline, then crashed to the floor, sliding next to Celtics co-owner Steve Pagliuca in the first row of seats on the baseline. 

As Celtics fans held their breath, Hayward popped right back up, even as both Brown and Charlotte rookie Miles Bridges rushed to help him up. Fans serenaded Hayward with a loud ovation for the block.

"That’s who he is,” said teammate Kyrie Irving. "Not necessarily impressed, I’ve gotten used to seeing it over the years of watching Gordon grow in this league. Seeing him do that, I think it really sparked our team, and I know it felt good for him.”

Irving has gushed about how excited he is to be playing with Hayward again. After the first day of training camp practice last week, Irving noted how he was watching highlights videos of Hayward in anticipation of being back on the court together.

And no one on the Celtics quite knows the mental challenge of coming back from an injury quite like Irving. His advice to Hayward?

"Not to overthink it,” said Irving. "I just don’t really say much to him. I think Gordon is gonna be Gordon. I’m gonna continue to say it: He’s a consummate professional. Obviously he’s coming off the injury but I think he’s doing a great job of working himself back and figuring out the level of play that he needs to play it with our team and where he fits with that, and it’s my job as one of the leaders of the team to continue to give him that confidence. 

"Throwing him some plays here and there just to get him back used to the way he’s used to playing -- in the middle of the floor, in pick-and-roll, making decisions, smart basketball player that’s able to play off the ball, but when he has the ball in his hands, he’s able to make plays for others and himself.”

It was almost certainly by design that the first play of the third quarter featured Hayward attacking the basket out of the pick-and-roll. He produced an and-one layup, his only field goal on a night he finished 1-of-7 shooting.

For the preseason, Hayward has now scored 14 points on 3-of-14 shooting.

"I did feel a little more comfortable out there,” said Hayward. "I think it was great being in front of our own fans for the first time. That was a special feeling for me. Obviously, still have a lot of improve on. I think rust is there, for sure, for me, but it was Game 2 after not playing for a year, so it’ll come back.”

Hayward received a loud ovation when he was introduced during pregame lineups, the roar dwarfing even Irving, who was playing in Boston for the first time since March. After sitting out one of Boston's home preseason game last year, Hayward hadn’t played at the Garden since Boston’s preseason-opener last year.

Hayward has noted how he desires to use the postseason to shake the rust from not playing since the opening night injury in Cleveland. And, fortunately for Hayward, he avoided a sixth foul that would have cut his night shorter and deprived him of the encouraging third-quarter glimpses.

"That’s a speed of the game thing,” Hayward said of his fouls. "Everyone focuses on the offensive end but there’s definitely defensive things, defensive habits that I’ve got to build back up. Being in the right positions, just knowing what they’re going to call, what they’re not going to call how, stuff like that.”

But even Hayward admitted it might have been funny if his night came to a sudden end.

"It definitely would have been funny, for sure,” said Hayward. "I definitely wasn’t trying to foul out. It just kind of happened. It is what it is. It’s all about us solving the process of coming back.”


NBA Rumors: Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant won't play for Nets when season resumes

NBA Rumors: Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant won't play for Nets when season resumes

Since the NBA's suspended season has given Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant months to recover from their respective injuries, some believed they could return and make the Brooklyn Nets title contenders.

That theory was put to rest on Friday.

Durant confirmed to ESPN's Marc J. Spears he will not be returning to play when the NBA season resumes in Orlando, Fla. next month. As for Irving, ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski says the former Boston Celtics guard suggested on Friday's NBPA conference call it's possible he could join the team... as an inactive player.

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Durant missed the entire 2019-20 campaign after rupturing his Achilles tendon in last year's NBA Finals. Irving underwent surgery in March to repair an impingement in his right shoulder that ended his first season with the Nets after only 20 games.

Brooklyn currently holds the No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference with a 30-34 record on the season.

Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck offers thoughts on NBA's 22-team return plan

Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck offers thoughts on NBA's 22-team return plan

On Thursday, the NBA announced a 22-team plan to resume the 2019-20 season in Orlando, Fla.

The plan passed by an overwhelming 29-1 vote among teams, with the Portland Trail Blazers as the only organization to vote against it. Boston Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck, obviously, was one of the many in favor of the plan and discussed why Friday on Felger & Mazz.

"The point that seemed the most fair is not to give a team that was lagging farther behind in the East, and that was for example [the Charlotte Hornets] who are seven games back," Grousbeck said. "In the history of the NBA, no one has ever come from seven games back at this point in the season. And so, it's more fair to say no, we can only take so many teams because of safety.

"We don't want to have 500 more people with all 30 teams. We'd just have more of a chance of getting shut down because of the virus. So there was a line to be drawn, and we all decided 29-1 that this was the most fair line."

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With safety as the No. 1 concern going forward, it's a no-brainer to limit the teams heading down to Walt Disney World to only the ones that can fight for a playoff spot.

Grousbeck also suggested that the Eastern Conference No. 1 seed Milwaukee Bucks could be the C's first opponent when the league returns to action. The Celtics were preparing for a matchup in Milwaukee when the season was suspended in mid-March.

"I think our first game is going to be Milwaukee, which that would be interesting," Grousbeck said. "Because that's what the schedule looks like just from the current schedule. We don't have the new schedule yet. But we'll probably start right off with Milwaukee."

The C's currently have the No. 3 seed in the East as they prepare to return to the court.

You can hear the rest of what Grousbeck had to say in the video above.