Celtics

Hayward delivers strong performance in first game in Cleveland since '17 injury

Hayward delivers strong performance in first game in Cleveland since '17 injury

Upon his arrival in Cleveland, Gordon Hayward acknowledged he was a little more anxious than usual for tonight’s game. 

And during the Boston Celtics’ morning shoot-around, those nerves were still a bit unsettled. 

Considering all that he has been through over the past 12 months - and where he was at tonight - it made sense. 

Tuesday was Hayward’s first game back at Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena, the same court that a little more than a year ago dramatically changed his life after he suffered a gruesome, season-ending left ankle/leg injury. 

So for Hayward, Tuesday night’s 103-96 win over Cleveland was indeed a mile-marker of sorts as he continues down the path of recovery. 

“I was a little anxious about it for sure, sitting in my hotel room last night, just thinking about how everything changed,” Hayward told reporters following Tuesday’s win. “Where I was sitting a year ago, from now. I’m just happy I was out there.”

But Hayward was more than just another warm body on the floor for the Celtics on Tuesday.

☘️CELTICS 103, CAVALIERS 96

With Kyrie Irving (hip) and Marcus Morris (knee) both out, Boston needed a lift from its second unit. 

And to Hayward's credit, he was up for the challenge. 

The 6-foot-8 Hayward tallied 18 points off the Celtics bench, in addition to grabbing six rebounds while dishing out five assists. 

 “Beautiful. He’s been struggling a lot,” Boston’s Marcus Smart told reporters in describing Hayward's game against the Cavs. “To come back to the place where it all started, to have a great game is something that sits in the back of your mind. We’re happy for him; we’re proud of him.”

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said he had not given Hayward’s previous visit to Cleveland any thought until this morning. 

“I just think he’s played enough now, he’s past that initial hurdle, right?” Stevens said. “It’s probably not fun to walk out on the court the first time and shoot-around and those type of things. But ultimately, he probably moved past that pretty quickly."

Stevens added, “He was great tonight, both ends of the court. I thought his offensive play-making, passing the ball, was as good as his scoring.”

Even after he entered the game in the first quarter on Tuesday, Hayward’s anxiousness had not gone away.

But those emotions didn’t stick around for long.  

“After I got up and down and I was running around for a little bit, they were gone. But definitely, warming up … even at shoot-around I was little anxious about it.”

None of that matters now. 

Hayward had a strong game, the Celtics (35-19) got the win, and Hayward crosses yet another mile-marker in his road to recovery. 

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How Jaylen Brown tricks Marcus Smart into helping him improve

How Jaylen Brown tricks Marcus Smart into helping him improve

BOSTON — Marcus Smart was entertaining teammates with an impossibly spot-on impersonation of former teammate Al Horford at one end of the floor Monday so Jaylen Brown had to know it wasn’t going to be as easy as asking Smart to join his post-practice 1-on-1 work.

See, there’s a science to getting full-intensity Smart when you really want to sharpen your knives. We’ll let Brown explain:

“Ever since I've been here, since my rookie year, I've been trying to take advantage of playing Marcus 1-on-1 and baiting him into playing me,” said Brown. “I’ve been talking trash so that he'll be motivated to play me and I can work on my game.

"Marcus is probably one of the best defenders in the league. Motivated Marcus is tough to score against. But you have to talk a little bit of trash to get him going.”

And if you don’t?

“He might just bull——, or throw up some bull—— [shots],” said Brown. "He’ll laugh and joke but as soon as you start talking trash to him, he’ll be looking to bust your ass. He’ll be super engaged pretty quickly.”

Brown wouldn’t divulge exactly what he said to press Smart’s buttons on Monday but, whatever it was, it had the desired effect. A sweatshirt-clad Smart immediately threw himself full throttle into a rotating game of 1-on-1 against Brown and camp invitee Kaiser Gates.

The frisky 1-on-1 matchups that ensued were maybe more interesting than Boston’s breezy preseason win over Cleveland Sunday and the Brown/Smart battles stole the show. Each player had their moments and Brown bellowed loudly after one successful stop, though it was Smart who had the walk-off moment after muscling home a tough layup with Brown defending.

While many Celtics players scrambled off the floor before the team’s afternoon flight to Cleveland, Brown was one of the last to depart. After the 1-on-1 work with Smart, Brown and Gates shuffled to another court for additional shooting drills. When Gates asked Brown a question about positioning on the way off the court, it spawned yet another round of 1-on-1 battles between the two players who have bonded over shared Atlanta roots.

For Brown, these lengthy workdays — and especially those sessions with Smart — are all part of a plan to dispel a notion that he peaked two seasons ago. He admits he’s frustrated by the notion that he underperformed a year ago during Boston’s train-wreck of a season.

“People always expect better, but the most frustrating thing is people always said that I was having a bad year [last season],” said Brown. “Maybe it was because of the role I was in, or compared to the year before and what I was expected to do, but people always said I had a bad year. I made the best of the situation that I was put in. People always said like, ‘You still had a bad year.' I don't know what else I could have done, to be honest. I don't know.”

His plan, though, is to simply make sure the same can’t be said this time around. Brown politely steers the conversation back to the future when pressed on last year.

“This year I just want to come out and play basketball. That's it,” said Brown. "I think we've got some good guys, we got some talent. … I worked really hard, night in and night out. I watched a lot of film. I'm probably my biggest critic. I just want to come out and just play.”

Celtics coach Brad Stevens believes that last year’s struggles will aid both Brown and Jayson Tatum.

"You should be ever-evolving, you should be ever-growing. That doesn’t mean that the path is not rocky at times. That’s part of it,” said Stevens. "Jaylen, not playing at times during his rookie year, you can see he’s always kind of kept that chip on his shoulder ever since and has always been really good. He’s just gotten better and better. This has been his best preseason.”

Riding some of the momentum he built near the end of the FIBA World Cup in China, Brown has displayed a more complete game this season. He’s sharpened his ball-handling. He’s improved his court vision. He’s stronger and more willing to joust with bigger forward.

Brown is having a particularly efficient preseason despite not shooting the 3-ball well yet. He’s averaging 9 points over just 18 minutes per game while shooting 52.4 percent from the floor overall. The Celtics are plus-47 in his 54 minutes of floor time (most of it from Sunday’s lopsided win) and own an absurd defensive rating of 63.9 when Brown is on the floor. His assist percentage (15.8%) is twice what it was last season (7.9%).

But it’s the eye test that really sells Brown’s improvements. He’s aggressive and confident going at the basket. He’s routinely finishing with his left hand. Brown looks ready to showcase the strides he’s made. He’s eager to show that last season isn’t a reflection of the player he will be.

No, if he can score against Smart, the rest of the league should be no problem.

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Report: Celtics exercise Jayson Tatum's fourth-year option

Report: Celtics exercise Jayson Tatum's fourth-year option

The Boston Celtics have made an important yet expected move.

According to Sham Charania of The Athletic, the Celtics have exercised their fourth-year option to retain star forward Jayson Tatum.

Tatum was the No. 3 overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. The Celtics selected him after trading down from the No. 1 overall pick. The Philadelphia 76ers would select Markelle Fultz at that juncture.

All first-round picks in the NBA sign four-year deals with two team options on the final two seasons. Given Tatum's performance, it was a foregone conclusion that the Celtics would exercise this option. It was just a matter of when.

Tatum will make $9.9 million in the final season of his rookie deal. During the 2020 offseason, he will be eligible to sign an extension with the Celtics, much like Jaylen Brown, the team's No. 3 overall pick in 2016, is eligible to sign one with the team right now.

Last year, Tatum averaged 15.0 points, 6.0 rebounds, 2.1 assists, and 1.1 steals while playing 31.1 minutes per game for the Celtics. They are hoping that he will make a bigger leap during his third season and really emerge as one of the NBA's rising stars.

Celtics Spotlight: Can Jayson Tatum make the leap in year 3?>>>

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