Gordon Hayward, Celtics looking to build off biggest win of the season

Gordon Hayward, Celtics looking to build off biggest win of the season

BOSTON — Gordon Hayward was feeling restless Saturday night. 

The Celtics had just lost 123-119 to the Phoenix Suns, a game in which a number of Boston players fell short of making plays down the stretch — Hayward included.

He missed a shot from point-blank range in the final minute of play, one of several opportunities squandered by Boston in what would eventually become the team’s third straight loss. 

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“It’s a play you think about,” Hayward told NBC Sports Boston of his late-game miss against the Suns. “I certainly thought about it all night … it’s hard to sleep; feel like it’s the play and the reason we lost. So to have good teammates to help you move past that is important, which I do.”

Indeed, the Celtics moved on with an emphatic drubbing of the Los Angeles Lakers by 32 points, the largest regular-season blowout in this heated rivalry in more than 50 years. 

And they hope to build off that tonight when they host the red-hot Memphis Grizzlies, who come in having won seven of their last eight and are currently holding down the eighth and final playoff spot out West. 

A key for Boston against the Grizzlies will be the play of Hayward, who in the team’s win over the Lakers had 16 points, six rebounds and five assists.

Hayward’s ability to fill up the stat sheet has been a strength for years. 

That play is fueled when Hayward is being aggressive from the opening tip-off, something he knows he has to do more consistently going forward. 

And while ratcheting up Hayward’s aggression is a good thing, it’s not like he has spent this season just standing around on the court, either. 

This season, he’s averaging 9.7 drives per game, which among Celtics trails only Kemba Walker (11.5) and Jayson Tatum (10.1).

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Hayward also gets a boost from his teammates who have recognized from time to time when his confidence isn’t where it needs to be in order for both him and the Celtics to be successful. 

“I see that sometimes,” Walker told NBC Sports Boston. “Gordon gets a little frustrated. But I just try to let him know, we believe in you. I’ve been seeing Gordon play over these years. I know how talented he is. I know how good he is. He was an All-Star before his injury (in 2017). I try to remind him of those things; he needs it sometimes.

"I think sometimes he lacks confidence and that’s on us to get G (Gordon) back on track. He has to know that we believe in him; and we do.”

One of those moments came against the Suns on Saturday when Hayward was understandably upset at himself for the late-game miss at the rim. 

And within seconds of the play being over, Marcus Smart was talking with Hayward, encouraging him to put the play behind him. 

As the longest-tenured Celtic, Smart acknowledged he does have to be more of an encourager from time to time with his teammates — both veterans as well as rookies. 

“I’ve been in those situations before like Gordon was against Phoenix,” Smart told NBC Sports Boston. “Where you had all eyes on you for something you did or didn't do. And the critics come out. And (on Monday against the Lakers), it’s a different narrative. They’re not gonna talk about that play (against Phoenix). They’re gonna be praising him for what he did (on Monday).

Smart added, “We’re gonna need him ... when he’s playing good, it’s hard for us to lose. The last thing I want is for anybody's confidence on this team to go down.” 

Said Hayward: “To have good teammates, which I do, to help you move past when things don’t go well, is important.”

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Grizzlies-Celtics, which begins Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live, followed by tip-off at 7:30 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.

Classic Celtics: C's outlast Michael Jordan's Bulls in 1986 playoff thriller

Classic Celtics: C's outlast Michael Jordan's Bulls in 1986 playoff thriller

Want to witness one of the greatest individual performances in NBA history? Just tune into NBC Sports Boston on Sunday night.

Our "Classic Celtics" series -- which featured Game 6 of the 2008 NBA Finals on Friday night -- continues Sunday with a throwback: Game 2 of Boston's 1986 NBA playoffs first-round series with the Chicago Bulls.

That April 20, 1986, game at TD Garden was a defining moment for then-23-year-old Michael Jordan, who went off for an NBA postseason-record 63 points.

But Celtics fans can appreciate Jordan's masterful performance knowing that Boston outlasted Chicago 135-131 in double overtime and swept the series en route to an eventual NBA title.

The broadcast begins Sunday at 7 p.m. ET, and as an added bonus, Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge -- who scored 24 points in this game while defending Jordan -- will join Brian Scalabrine to provide real-time commentary throughout the game.

Other reasons to watch:

- A vintage performance from Celtics star Larry Bird, who scored a team-high 36 points to go along with 12 rebounds and eight assists.

- The 1980s Celtics at their peak: Bird, Ainge, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish, Dennis Johnson and Bill Walton all scored double figures.

- Jordan hitting two free throws in the final seconds of regulation to force the first overtime.

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NBA Rumors: Execs expect Gordon Hayward to opt in to $34 million Celtics contract

NBA Rumors: Execs expect Gordon Hayward to opt in to $34 million Celtics contract

Gordon Hayward was enjoying his best season as a Boston Celtic before the 2019-20 season came to a screeching halt due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Through 45 games, the 30-year-old forward was averaging 17.3 points, 6.5 rebounds and 4.1 assists while shooting 59.3 percent from the field. Hayward's performance was setting himself up for a solid contract if he were to opt out of his contract and hit free agency this summer.

That scenario doesn't appear likely, however.

According to Heavy.com, NBA executives expect Hayward to exercise his $34 million player option.

'It’s too much money to pass up,' one general manager told Heavy.com. 'He could get a longer deal if that is what he really wants. But I don’t think the Celtics want to give it to him, they have a lot of young guys to pay and the starting (salary) number on whatever the contract is will not be close to $34 million. He can opt in this year and then take a big contract next year. When you look at what he has done since his injury, he has only gotten better. He could get better next year and be ready for the summer of 2021.'

That doesn't exactly come as a surprise. Hayward may get a nice contract if he were to hit the open market this year, but it certainly wouldn't be anywhere near that eye-popping $34 million figure.

It makes far more sense for Hayward to take his money and test the market in 2021 if he and the Celtics don't agree on an extension before then. The 2021 free agent class will be much deeper, and teams will have more cap space to give Hayward a sizable long-term deal. That is, if he can duplicate the kind of success he's enjoyed so far this season.