Hayward starts season on minutes restriction, eager to prove he’s the same player

Hayward starts season on minutes restriction, eager to prove he’s the same player

BOSTON — Celtics forward Gordon Hayward will be limited to 25 minutes of floor time when he returns to a regular-season game for the first time in nearly a year Tuesday in the season-opener against the Philadelphia 76ers.

Celtics coach Brad Stevens said that, while Hayward had his best week of practice in the long crawl to opening night, the team will keep him on a minutes restriction for the first couple weeks of the season.

Hayward, who missed all of last season after fracturing his ankle on opening night in Cleveland, played in three exhibition games but sat out the exhibition finale while dealing with a back issue. Hayward admitted he’ll have some natural butterflies for opening night, which will be his first regular-season game in a Celtics uniform at TD Garden — but he’s eager to dive back in.

"Definitely a little anxious, just a little bit nervous. I think that’s natural though,” said Hayward. "Once you get out there and get your blood flowing and get up and down the court a couple times, that’ll go away. Just looking forward to being out there, that’s a big step for me. Like I said in the preseason, too, being out there on the floor after what happened is a big step.”

Hayward is expected to start and, with a fully healthy roster, the Celtics will have plenty of options to fill up minutes while Hayward ramps up his activity early in the year.

While hesitant at times in the preseason, teammates and coaches have raved about the progress that Hayward displayed over the past week, a stretch in which the Celtics purposely went heavy on scrimmage work to get Hayward live reps.

"I thought last week was his best week, as you would expect,” said Stevens. "Obviously his back feels better and a little more comfortable as you move on, so he’ll be a little bit restricted from a minutes standpoint as we progress through this early part of the season, but that’s just to make sure we ramp it back up so that he’s feeling great toward the end of the year and the years beyond.  It’s hard to go from not playing [for 12 months] to playing the schedule that we’re playing.”

Teammate Marcus Smart raved about how Smart looked in recent sessions.

“He started hitting all his shots,” said Smart. "In preseason it just seemed like he couldn’t buy a shot. Everything was on line, it was a little bit short. Got into practice and we starting running five-on-five, and getting to the rim, getting to where he’s supposed to. Those shots that were short are now going in. He’s looking like his old self.”

Added Smart: "He was a little rusty coming in [to camp], and he’s out here dunking the ball off the ankle and everything. It’s good to see that."

Hayward admitted he had a good week and playfully chided reporters about the constant health questions. He’s ready for that storyline to die down as he launches back into action.

"My ankle feels strong,” said Hayward. "I still can tell that it’s the ankle that got hurt, I don’t think that’s going to go away for a little while but continually doing rehab on it, as well as the rest of my body. And some of that, too, is just getting older, you gotta do more and more stuff.”

Hayward said he feels like he’s in good basketball shape [“I feel good as far as cardio and conditioning is concerned”] but admitted he cannot fully simulate what it will be like to be out there playing again.

Especially with the emotions of having missed a full year while rehabbing from the ankle injury on opening night in Cleveland last season.

But he plans to fully utilize all 25 minutes of floor time.

"I’m going to go in and play as hard as I can when I’m out there on the floor,” said Hayward. "That’s something that, as a player, you can’t stand -- minutes and limiting the amount of minutes. I think if you would ask all the players, they’d want to be out there the whole game. I understand, as far as what happened, and then trying to make sure that I’m kinda going at an upward path. First game of the year, it’s the goal, and so I have to accept that. When I’m out there, I’m going to be playing hard, hard as I can.”

Hayward’s biggest motivation: Prove that he didn’t lose anything from being out a year.

"Just internally, proving to myself that I can be the same player that I was,” said Hayward. "I want to get back out there on the court and show everybody what I can do."



Tacko's dunk contest assist comes up short for runner-up (again) Aaron Gordon

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Tacko's dunk contest assist comes up short for runner-up (again) Aaron Gordon

CHICAGO — Aaron Gordon was down to his final dunk, in need of a 49 or better to win his first slam dunk contest. 

He wanted to do something special, like dunk on a big man. 

Former Celtic Shaquille O'Neal was nearby, but he declined. 

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Gordon took a quick glimpse into the crowd and saw Boston's Tacko Fall nearby. 

Fall —all 7-foot-5 (without shoes) of him—stood in the paint for what was a crowd-razing dunk that many felt would secure Gordon his first slam dunk title. 

Then came back the scores. To the surprise of many, Gordon fell one point short, 48-47, to Miami's Derrick Jones Jr. 

After Gordon's dunk over Tacko, it was clear Jones had doubts about whether he was going to win. 

"He's a very tall human being," Jones said.of Tacko. "If I thought of it earlier, I would have did it."

Gordon added: "What are we doing? Who set the dunk contest up? Who set this up?" 

Then he explained both his disappointment in not winning, and his rationale for involving Tacko. 

"I wanted to jump over Shaq. He didn't want to do it," Gordon explained. "So, it was really for the people. Everybody was like, 'Tacko, Tacko!' He's the tallest dude in the gym. Dunking over somebody whose 7-5 and dunking it, it's no easy feat. What I get like a 47? Come on, man. What we doing?"

Fall is in Chicago this weekend participating in the NBA's Basketball Without Borders as a counselor, along with making some promotional appearances. He's also appeared at some of the All-Star events and more often than not, has received a louder ovation from fans than some of the players who will be playing in Sunday's All-Star Game. 

Aaron Gordon dunks over Tacko Fall in 2020 NBA Slam Dunk Contest

Aaron Gordon dunks over Tacko Fall in 2020 NBA Slam Dunk Contest

After Jayson Tatum was eliminated in the first round of the 2020 NBA All-Star Skills Contest, it was assumed that the Boston Celtics' involvement in NBA All-Star Saturday night was finished.

Oh, how wrong we were.

The Celtics did get involved in one of the most epic and controversial Slam Dunk Contests in the history of the NBA. Or rather, one Celtic got involved: Tacko Fall.

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In double overtime of the contest, Aaron Gordon of the Orlando Magic came out to perform the final dunk of the evening. He beckoned for the 7-foot-5 rookie to come out onto the floor with one purpose. He wanted to dunk over Tacko. Fall was reluctant at first but ultimately agreed to do it.

And Gordon was able to clear Tacko and complete the dunk on his first try. Here's a look at the unbelievable moment, courtesy of the NBA's official Twitter account.

What an amazing dunk. There are very few players who could pull this off, but Gordon is obviously one of them.

Despite the epic dunk from Gordon, he was only awarded a 47 on the dunk and as a result, lost by a single point to Derrick Jones Jr. of the Miami Heat. It was the only dunk of Gordon's evening on which he didn't receive a max score of 50.

This dunk will surely be talked about in the coming days and Gordon's defeat will be scrutinized in another close and contentious NBA Dunk Contest.