Celtics

"It's embarrassing" - Gordon Hayward talks about his struggles

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"It's embarrassing" - Gordon Hayward talks about his struggles

The Boston Celtics have certainly not played up to their (or most people's) expectations this season. But that's just stating the obvious.

Looking at the roster, the Celtics certainly have the talent to be playing better.

The C's made it to game seven of the Eastern Conference Finals last season without Kyrie Irving or Gordon Hayward.

Logically, most would assume that with both star players back, as well as the young talent that helped power the Celtics' 2017-18 run with another year of experience under their belt, the Celtics would be the team to beat in the East.

But that hasn't been the case. While drama and attitudes have dominated the discussion surrounding the C's struggles—the issues are more nuanced than that. Each player is their own case.

In the case of Gordon Hayward, who was lost to a gruesome injury in the opening minutes of the 2017-18 season, he has simply not been the same.

An article by ESPN's Jackie MacMullen gives Hayward's perspective on his struggles to regain his level of play:

"I was thinking, 'Wow, am I really that slow out there? It's hard. It's embarrassing. You want to be the guy that says, 'I'm strong. I don't need any help.''"

Hayward has reportedly had complications from his injury:

"[His] difficulties were compounded by back woes stemming from atrophied muscles that had not been fired for nearly a year. He received injections to ease the pain, but it further limited his mobility, and further delayed his progress. 'We never felt [that it wasn't] going to work -- [or to get him out of here]', teammate Marcus Smart explained. 'It was more [that we're rushing him.]' Everyone wanted to throw Gordon back out there, but his body wasn't ready to do what we were asking him to do."

MacMullen discusses a team flight where Hayward ended up sitting next to and bonding with rising star Jayson Tatum.

"The two got to talking, not about basketball but about parenthood and food and music. Hayward teased Tatum that he was still just a baby and started calling him 'Little Bro.' That blossoming friendship, Hayward said, can only help their relationship on the court."

Bonding with teammates has been a bit of an issue for Hayward, who was lost to injury just as his first season with the Celtics began, and ended up being away from the team for a long period of time:

"'One of the hardest things about last year was going through the whole injury kind of alone,' [Hayward] said. 'It wasn't necessarily anyone's fault. I had just moved to a new team and was just starting to try and develop relationships with these guys. Then I got hurt, and I was away from the team, and you don't have a chance to put a foundation down.'"

The good news is that Hayward is said to "feel more comfortable driving into the teeth of the defense and exploding off his leg."

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Between Kemba Walker, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, this shamrock is a 'three-leaf closer'

Between Kemba Walker, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, this shamrock is a 'three-leaf closer'

Kemba Walker, having reached his nightly minutes restriction, was standing at the back of Boston’s three-tier bench when Jaylen Brown took a feed from Jayson Tatum and buried a game-clinching 3-pointer in the final minute of Sundays’ win over the Portland Trail Blazers.

Walker, a towel slung around his neck, raised his right hand in the air and simply reveled in the moment, all while the rest of Boston’s bench spilled onto the floor in celebration during the timeout that followed.

"They’re special. They’re special,” Walker said after Boston escaped with a 128-124 triumph for their first bubble victory of the restart. Tatum finished with a team-high 34 points, a fresh haircut both restoring his scoring prowess and giving him newfound assist superpowers. All while Brown scored 16 of his 30 points in the final frame.

"In order for us to be a great team, those two guys are going to have to go at it every night, they’re going to have to balance off each other,” added Walker. "They’re gonna have to love each other. Because their talent level is unreal. And it just takes our team to different heights when they’re playing basketball at that kind of level.”

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Heat, which begins Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live followed by tip-off at 6:30 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.

Walker might have been a spectator for the frenetic final frame but he was spectacular for the second straight game and — we’ll stress it here again — nothing is more important for the Celtics than Walker looking more like the All-Star talent we saw at the start of the 2019-20 season. Given all the consternation about his knee, it’s still jarring just how crisp he’s looked in these games.

Walker finished with 14 points in 22 minutes, making five of six shots including both 3-pointers he attempted. Walker continues to look speedy and shifty, the only sign of an issue with his left knee being the minute restriction that Stevens refuses to budge from even as the Celtics endure a couple nailbiters to start these seeding games.

But what’s also encouraging for the Celtics’ playoff hopes is that, even when Walker isn’t on the court, Tatum and Brown can embrace the stage as they did. Walker’s health is of utmost importance once the postseason arrives, but the Celtics having three players that are eager and willing to take over down the stretch — and Gordon Hayward has been excellent in these two games, too — is quite the luxury that will force opponents to pick their playoff poison.

Like a shamrock, call this a three-leaved closer.

The Celtics have yearned in recent years to have multiple options they can lean on in crunch time, a variety of scorers who prevent opponents from clamping down on one focal point.

It’s no surprise based on what they’ve accomplished that Brown and Tatum can thrive in the moment. It’s simply the prospects of having all three healthy for a postseason run that makes Boston a legitimate threat.

Especially when they can pull out a quality win against a win-or-go-home opponent like the Blazers.

"We definitely missed Kemba out there, for sure,” said Brown. "Kemba is a leader and he gives us a balance to our team that we desperately need. We shouldn't have had to get into a close game. We feel like that's a part of our growth as well as a team.

"You got to be able to carry the team with the guys out on the court, between me, Jayson, Gordon and whoever else is out there. Just continue to take the next step as basketball players but also as thinkers of the game, start seeing the game, understanding the game and making the right plays.”

Tatum and Brown nearly willed an injury-filled Celtics roster to the Finals two years ago. Even with the East deeper with talent, Boston’s ceiling is higher based on their improvements of Brown and Tatum, plus the All-Star talent they should have beside them.

“We’re young guys, but we have a decent amount of playoff experience. We’ve been in some big games and some big moments,” said Tatum. "And two very extremely confident guys that want to be out there, want to make big plays.”

Walker wanted to be out there, too. But he’s not pushing his luck. He knows Stevens is not having any of it.

"Brad is not putting me back in,” said Walker. "Doesn’t matter the kind of emotions I’ve got. He’s not going over the restriction limit. It don’t matter. My best bet is to stay positive, cheer my teammates on to the best of my ability, and that’s what I try to do — stay engaged into the game.”

And it’s a lot easier to embrace the sideline when there’s players like Brown and Tatum keeping the team afloat.

Celtics vs. Trail Blazers overreactions: Jaylen Brown the new 'King in the Fourth'?

Celtics vs. Trail Blazers overreactions: Jaylen Brown the new 'King in the Fourth'?

The Boston Celtics bounced back from Friday's loss to the Milwaukee Bucks with a 128-124 win over the Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday.

It was a huge day for Jayson Tatum (34 points), who shot a woeful 2-for-18 from the field on Friday. Jaylen Brown (30 points) came up big when it mattered most, and Gordon Hayward added 22 points and eight rebounds of his own.

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Heat, which begins Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live followed by tip-off at 6:30 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.

Here are a few instant overreactions from the C's first victory of the season restart:

1. Jaylen Brown is the Celtics' new "King in the Fourth'.

Verdict: Overreaction

Brown is the main reason the Celtics were able to hold off the Trail Blazers in the second half as he made clutch shot after clutch shot and tallied 16 points in the fourth quarter alone.

This isn't Brown's first time stepping up when it matters most. Brown has proven time and time again that when the game is on the line, he's capable of propelling his team to victory.

So is it time to crown him the new "King in the Fourth"? Well, as great as Brown has been in crunch time, ex-Celtic Isaiah Thomas and C's guard Kemba Walker might have something to say about that.

Thomas didn't take too kindly to Walker being declared the new "King in the Fourth" earlier this season, and you can bet Walker wishes he had the chance to step up in this game. If not for his minutes restriction, we very well could be writing about Walker's heroics rather than Brown's.

We'll have to at least wait until the playoffs before we officially crown a king.

2. The real Jayson Tatum has returned.

Verdict: Not an overreaction

We don't know who that was going 2-for-18 in the Celtics' loss to the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday, but that wasn't Jayson Tatum.

The real Tatum showed up Sunday afternoon, putting up 34 points with eight assists and four rebounds.

This is the kind of performance C's fans have come to expect from Tatum, who showed he was on the verge of superstardom before the NBA season was suspended in March. It's the version of Tatum that Boston will need if it's to make a deep run in the playoffs.

As for what helped Tatum turn things around in his second game of the restart? We credit the adorable Deuce Tatum for being his good luck charm.

3. Near-collapse in second half is worrisome going forward.

Verdict: Overreaction

The Celtics were cruising and had a 24-point lead in this game, but C's fans have come to learn this season that no lead is truly comfortable.

Sure enough, the Trail Blazers stormed back to even take the lead at one point in the second half. Thankfully, great fourth-quarter play from Brown and Tatum allowed Boston to hold on.

As nice as it was to earn the first victory in the Orlando bubble, nearly blowing such a sizable lead definitely left a sour taste in the mouths of Celtics fans. It isn't worth worrying about, however, as there wasn't much the C's could do about Portland's barrage of deep 3-pointers in the third and fourth quarters.

Boston can't make these near-collapses a trend heading into the playoffs, but there's no need to overreact to Sunday's sequence of events.