Celtics

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.”

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Celtics gear up for 'special' season, opener vs Philadelphia

Celtics gear up for 'special' season, opener vs Philadelphia

BOSTON – The usual Boston Celtics preseason get-together for fans at the TD Garden earlier this month was anything but the norm when Kyrie Irving dropped the bomb of all bombs on the crowd in declaring his intent to re-sign with the Celtics when he becomes an unrestricted free agent in July.

The announcement did more than just provide Boston with a verbal commitment from their 26-year-old, five-time All-Star that he wants to be with the franchise for many years to come.

It took what was going to be one of the biggest questions repeatedly asked all season of this team  – where was Irving going to play next year? -  off the table.

Just as important, it took an already close team to another level of togetherness with the knowledge that their leader, Irving, wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

And in many ways the same can be said for this Boston Celtics team which begins this season as arguably the favorite to come out of the East.

Based upon how this roster is structured now and in the foreseeable future, Boston’s place among the game’s top teams won’t change anytime soon.

But for now, the focus is solely on this season, a season in which the Celtics appear to be the stiffest challenger to the Golden State dynasty that includes a trio of NBA titles in the last four years.

“Everyone is committed to each other,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “That’s a great feeling. Certainly, the idea that we have a goal we’re all chasing after and we’re together, is great. It’s always good to have that reaffirmed.”

Irving and Hayward return

As important as Irving’s commitment was to the team, him being healthy this season is even more valuable.  Irving missed all of the playoffs last season when an infection was discovered in his surgically repaired left knee from 2015, resulting in Irving needing the hardware in his knee to be removed. 

Boston showed that they can win at a high level without him by advancing all the way to the Eastern Conference finals. But for them to bring home Banner 18 or at least compete for it in the NBA Finals, there’s little doubt that it’ll have to come about with a healthy Irving on the floor.

And he’s more than up for the challenge.

“Absolutely. I’m ready to kill. I’m ready to kill,” Irving said. “It’s exciting. Because of that excitement from your teammates, it only gets me more excited. I expect the same thing from them. You think about how much talent we have and how special we are, as individuals. But the attitude and the camaraderie and the environment that the Boston Celtics have created over a tradition of years is something that I’m grateful to be a part of.

 

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Irving added, “It’s about a brotherhood. Great players before you have sacrificed. Great players before you have committed to winning a championship and what that entails. Great players before you have done that. So why are you any different? There is no special treatment for that. You’re going to be who you are and we support that. We want you to be the best you can be.”

That brotherhood has been especially important for Gordon Hayward, who will return to the lineup after missing all but the first five minutes of last season after suffering a left ankle/left leg injury in the season opener.

The steadfast support of the coaching and medical staff, as well as his teammates, has been important to Hayward’s return to the floor.

“All of those guys have been great, supporting and encouraging me since the injury,” Hayward said. “But I’m really looking forward to getting back out there.”

And he’s going into the regular season coming off what he and his teammates have described as his best week of practice, something that bodes well for him to hit the ground running in the opener, right?

Not exactly.

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said Hayward will be limited to 25 or so minutes early in the season, a means of not rushing him back into game action too soon, after having not played in nearly a year.

“For sure a little anxious, a little nervous,” Hayward said of his first game of the season. “It’s been a year since real basketball. Yeah, looking forward to it.” 

Bench with Attitude

With Hayward’s minutes limited, that will likely mean more usage from the Celtics bench, dubbed by Marcus Morris as the B.W.A. – Bench with Attitude.

As one of the leaders of Boston’s second unit along with Terry Rozier and Marcus Smart, having a nickname with ‘attitude’ in it seems appropriate.

“We definitely play with an edge, kind of feisty, with an attitude when we’re out there,” Rozier told NBC Sports Boston. “We’re confident in ourselves that whoever we play, wherever we play, our bench is gonna make an impact.”

Last season’s bench was charged with playing strong defense which they did in limiting opponent benches to 44.2 percent shooting which ranked ninth among bench scoring defenses according to hoopsstats.com.

Boston’s second unit consists of a multitude of players who all have different roles to play. Marcus Smart is the pesky defender who will be in the hunt for a spot on the NBA's All-Defensive Teams. Daniel Theis is the sneaky-good rebounder who had the team's top rebounding percentage (.160) from a year ago. Morris and Rozier are looked upon to score the ball as well as defend at a high level.

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“We understand that the second unit, is ours,” Morris told NBC Sports Boston. “We all buy into it. We want to have a special year. We’re going out there, playing the best we can. But at the same time, he (Rozier) is a starting point guard in this league. So, I don’t see no backups. I feel like I’m a starting 3 (small forward) or 4 (power forward) in this league; I don’t see no backups. Nobody can do nothing with us. It’s going to be a long, long season for opposing second units.”

Youth Coming of Age

The Eastern Conference finals last spring featured a Celtics squad with a trio of starters – Terry Rozier, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum – that were all 24 years old or younger.

It was the kind of youth movement that you seldom see advance through the postseason and come as close as they did – one win, actually – from getting to the NBA Finals.

That successful run has brought a different kind of confidence and swagger into training camp, the kind that bodes well for a Celtics team that will have to rely heavily on its depth in order to achieve its goal – winning an NBA title.

All three will have prominent roles with the Celtics again this season, with Brown and Tatum remaining in the starting lineup while Rozier becomes a highly valued reserve off the bench.

Finding success in the playoffs was indeed a game-changer for all three players coming into this season.

“I’ve always felt that, if I get an opportunity, I can play with anybody,” Rozier told NBC Sports Boston. “But to go out there and do it … it feels good. I was happy with my play then, but I’m not satisfied. I can play better, I will play better.”

Both Brown and Tatum echoed similar thoughts on their approach to this season based off of what went well last spring.

“It’s definitely a nice confidence-boost to be playing some of your best basketball in the playoffs,” Brown said. “But me, this team … we're still hungry.”

Because in the end, good play is no longer good enough for this team.

Getting to the Conference finals won’t suffice, either.

They have done that each of the last two seasons, well aware that tangible progress at this point means getting to the NBA Finals.

And doing so likely means facing the Golden State Warriors, a team that the Celtics have actually played well against in recent years.

Boston has split the season series in each of the last three seasons, with two of those losses coming down to the wire and in overtime. 

It’s one thing to hold their own and win a few times during the regular season.

But can they get it done in a playoff series?

“It’s gonna be tough,” said Jayson Tatum who then added, “but I like our chances.”

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NBC Sports Boston's NBA All-Glue-Guy team

NBC Sports Boston's NBA All-Glue-Guy team

BOSTON – When it comes to winning in the NBA, it’s clear that you have to have a few stars on your roster. But to really win at the highest of levels, it requires contributions from players that may go unnoticed but are essential to a team’s success.

These players all have skills, otherwise they wouldn’t be in the NBA.

But often those skills aren’t on full display because for the team to be successful, they need to excel in one or two particular areas.

And with that, here’s the NBA All-Glue team heading into the 2018-2019 season.

Al Horford, Boston Celtics

Here’s why: He might be the most non-descript five-time All-Star of this generation. But that doesn’t diminish the impact that Horford has made ever since he came into the NBA. His ability as a playmaker in the post ranks him among the best passing big men in the NBA. And in recent years, Horford has developed a deadly 3-point shot that makes him even more impactful. But the one thing Horford does as well as any player in the league, is win. He has been in the NBA 11 seasons, each of which involved his teams in Atlanta and Boston getting to the postseason.

Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors

Here’s why: A Three-time All-star and former Defensive Player of the Year (2017), Green is everything you want in a glue guy. He has the versatility to defend all five positions on the floor, and doesn’t grumble about whether he gets enough touches or not. Like Horford, he doesn’t make all-star teams because of his stats; it’s due to the success that his teams have and his role in making that happen.

Malcolm Brogdon, Milwaukee Bucks

Here’s why: As the Bucks make their way into the upper echelon of the Eastern Conference this season, they are going to need reliable players who can handle doing the little things that are needed to win but don’t necessarily appear on the stat sheet. Brogdon isn’t a great scorer, but has shown a fearless nature in close, down-to-the-wire games. Defensively, he can guard multiple positions and not lose his effectiveness. The Bucks don’t win at a high level without Brogdon doing what he does best, which is being a solid contributor in a multitude of areas of the game.

Clint Capela, Houston Rockets

Here’s why: When you think defense in the NBA, the Houston Rockets are one of the last teams that comes to mind. And their defense will be even more challenged with the departures of Trevor Ariza (Phoenix) and Luc Mbah a Moute (Los Angeles Clippers). That leaves Capela, an athletic, rim-protecting rebounder that will be counted on defensively more than any other Rockets player. The 24-year-old big man signed a five-year, $90 million contract this summer which tells you how much the Rockets are counting on him to be a major contributor. Last season, he was seventh in the NBA in contested shots (12.8) per game. But more telling was the fact that Capela averaged 27.0 minutes played per game, while the six players ahead of him logged at least 32 minutes per game according to NBA.com/stats. But as much as that helps, the true value in Capela will be the shot attempts that opponents don’t take because of his presence around the basket, or the turnovers he causes by forcing opponents to make passes or plays they did not intend to do.

Steven Adams, Oklahoma City Thunder

Here’s why: Arguably the strongest player in the NBA, Adams understands knows the pecking order in town begins with Russell Westbrook and Paul George. His role is to be available to score when they’re not, and consistently rebound and defend the hell out of the ball in addition to setting some of the most bone-jarring picks in the NBA. It is that latter part of his game, screen-setting, that really opens things up for both himself and teammates. Last season, Adams was second in the NBA in screen assists (4.9) per game, which is a screen that leads directly to a made basket. It’s not the sexiest stat out there, but it speaks to the value Adams brings to the table that might be overlooked by those outside the Thunder organization.

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