Celtics

Here's one aspect of Gordon Hayward's injury that makes Danny Ainge wary

Here's one aspect of Gordon Hayward's injury that makes Danny Ainge wary

Gordon Hayward fracturing his hand isn't the end of the world. The Boston Celtics forward should be back by the end of the calendar year and has endured far worse injuries.

But there's one factor about Hayward's injury that gives Danny Ainge pause, and it involves recent history.

In his weekly interview Thursday on 98.5 The Sports Hub's "Toucher & Rich," the Celtics president of basketball operations explained that Boston's biggest challenge with Hayward's injury won't be losing him for six weeks, but how to re-integrate him when those six weeks are up.

"Gordon has been playing so great. He's our most efficient player, shooting 57 percent from the field, having a terrific year," Ainge said. "So now, other guys have to do more. And so then when Gordon comes back, then other guys get to do less."

Does that scenario ring any bells? It should.

Many believe the genesis of the Celtics' struggles in 2018-19 were injuries to Hayward and Kyrie Irving that kept them out of the 2017-18 playoffs, allowing young players like Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier to take on much bigger roles.

When Hayward and Irving both returned at full strength last season, the "young guys" had to revert to their previous roles, an adaptation that seemed to splinter the locker room.

That tricky scenario -- specifically how it affects team chemistry -- isn't lost on Ainge.

"I think that (Hayward's injury is) a good opportunity for the guys on our team right now," Ainge said. "And then when Gordon comes back, trying to fit that back in is sometimes a challenge just when he returns to play.

"That's the only bummer about it. We were really developing -- there's been a lot of talk about chemistry on this team and they're great kids, but they're really figuring each other out on the court, too.

"So, now that takes a little bit of a step back, and you try to reinvent the rotations and reinvent everything when you lose a significant player like that."

These Celtics are built much differently than last year's Celtics, starting with Kemba Walker, who carries a strong reputation as an unselfish leader. Boston also has won two straight in Hayward's absence, and the team appears to be enjoying each other's company.

But as Ainge suggests, the real test for this team may come in the days and weeks following Hayward's return.

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Boston Celtics vs. Philadelphia 76ers live stream: How to watch NBA game online

Boston Celtics vs. Philadelphia 76ers live stream: How to watch NBA game online

The Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers meet Thursday night for the first time since opening night and they have the added drama of Al Horford, who spent three years with the Celtics, returning to the Hub in an enemy uniform.

The two rivals again are vying for supremacy in the NBA's Eastern Conference, with the Celtics owning the third spot in the East at 17-6 and the Sixers currently fourth at 18-7. The C's will be out to avenge their opening night loss in Philly, which was the last time they saw old friend Horford, who makes his return to Boston after leaving as a free agent to join the longtime rivals in the City of Brotherly Love. 

Horford's departure was not without a little controversy. He spent three seasons with the Celtics, then declined his $30 million option for 2019-20 to become a free agent, but was expected to re-sign with Boston, only to take the more lucrative four-year, $109 million deal from Philly that he was rumored to have secured before the official start of free agency July 1. 

It will be interesting to see the reception the big man gets in his TD Garden return.

Be sure to tune into NBC Sports Boston for Celtics Pregame Live at 7 p.m. ET, followed by the game at 8 p.m. ET or stream it via the MyTeams app. 

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BEFORE THE GAME: At 7 p.m., Celtics Pregame Live presented by TD Bank gets you ready for the game with reports from Kyle Draper, Mike Gorman, Tommy Heinsohn, Brian Scalabrine, A. Sherrod Blakely, Chris Forsberg, and Abby Chin. Watch on NBC Sports Boston or click here for the live stream.

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Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-76ers, which tips off Thursday at 7 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Mike & Tommy have the call at 8 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.

Jaylen Brown: Al Horford 'should be celebrated' in his return to Boston with 76ers

Jaylen Brown: Al Horford 'should be celebrated' in his return to Boston with 76ers

INDIANAPOLIS -- Jaylen Brown has been around the Celtics fan base long enough to know that they can be hard on former C's who return with their new teams. 

Or in the case of Kyrie Irving, whose new team (the Brooklyn Nets) showed up to the TD Garden while he stayed in Brooklyn because of a shoulder injury, Celtics fans will boo the hell out of you even if you're not in the building.

Brown has no idea how they are going to react to ex-Celtic Al Horford returning for the first time with the Philadelphia 76ers on Thursday night. 

Still, he has a pretty good idea of what that moment will be like for him when Horford is introduced with the Philly starters. 

“He should be celebrated,” Brown said. “Boston fans, they're gonna do what they want, right? Al came here, contributed, took this team the farthest it’s been since ‘08 [NBA champions]. Al served his time well here."

Brown added, “For me, he was a great leader, a great person… I know I’ll clap for him when they call his name. That’s just me.”

In his three seasons with the Celtics, Boston won 63.8 percent of their games with Horford on the roster in addition to advancing to the playoffs each season, which included consecutive trips (2017 and 2018) to the Eastern Conference finals. 

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In 208 regular-season games with the Celtics, Horford averaged 13.5 points, 7.0 rebounds and 4.6 assists. 

Semi Ojeleye echoed similar sentiments about Horford. 

“Just a great guy, a great man, a great leader,” Ojeleye told NBC Sports Boston earlier. “All of us young guys who are still here, we learned a lot from our time around Al.”

Still, Brown added, don’t get it twisted. 

He and his teammates from last season have lots of love for Al, before and after the game. 

But when the ball goes up and the game starts? That’s another matter entirely. 

“Every time I see Al, that’s my guy,” Brown said. “I’m looking forward to it, say hello before the game. But while we on the court… don’t talk to me.”

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-76ers, which tips off Thursday at 7 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Mike & Tommy have the call at 8 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.