No more qualifiers needed with Gordon Hayward

No more qualifiers needed with Gordon Hayward

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Finally, he can just be plain ol’ Gordon Hayward again.

That should be the big takeaway after Hayward erupted for 39 points on absurdly efficient shooting Tuesday night during Boston’s 119-113 triumph in Cleveland. There’s no need to wonder if he’s “Utah Gordon,” or ask “Is he fully back?” We’re seeing the player the Celtics signed in July 2017 and there’s no need to qualify it any longer.

Hayward (politely) bristled when he was (politely) asked if he was “100 percent back” after Tuesday’s game. “I don’t think about [the ankle],” Hayward told reporters. "I haven’t thought about it for a while. Hopefully you guys can stop asking me questions about that.”

He (politely) scolded his teammates, too, after they continued the trend of dumping fluids on him after a big performance. It was cute — and appropriate — last season in Minnesota but it’s unnecessary now.

After all, he’s just plain ol’ Gordon Hayward again.

Hayward is averaging 20.3 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 4.3 assists over 34.2 minutes per game. That’s a stat line on par with his 2017 All-Star season. Yes, it’s only been six games but the eye test means more than the sample size at this point. Those numbers will dip down a bit, particularly when the Celtics are at full strength, but clearly Hayward is playing at a level comparable to his pre-injury self.

But instead of wondering if what he’s doing is sustainable or if his confidence will wane like it did at times last season, we can probably just assume this is how things are going to be from now on. That’s not to say that Hayward is going to put up Wilt Chamberlain-like perfect stat lines while going 16-for-16 from inside the arc each night out — in fact, the Celtics’ overall talent will likely cause him to have some quieter nights when others have the hot hand — but Hayward has proven early in the year that he’s going to impact the team positively more often than not.

Hayward is giving the Celtics what they need right now, including a boost on the glass given the team's penchant for small-ball lineups with a still-dinged-up frontcourt. Hayward is averaging a team-high 7.5 rebounds per game (matched by Jayson Tatum) and his efforts pursuing caroms produced maybe the biggest bucket of the night on Tuesday when his late-game putback of a Kemba Walker miss essentially sealed Boston’s win.

Hayward is second on the team in assists (trailing only Marcus Smart) and, while his turnover rate is higher than usual, he’s making the right plays. That’s important when the Celtics are at full strength as Boston must focus on simply finding the open man or riding the hot hand to maximize their collective offensive talents. Hayward, as much as any player on the team, has an ability to create off the dribble then decide whether to seek his own shot or find an open teammate.

Hayward isn’t going to shoot 56.5 percent from the floor overall and 50 percent from beyond the arc for the entire season. The return of Jaylen Brown will bite into the number of shots all the wings are seeing. But just because his stat lines aren’t at glitzy doesn’t mean that Utah Hayward went missing, or that Hayward isn’t quite all the way back.

He’s back. No need for qualifiers. He’s just plain ol’ Gordon Hayward now. And that’s all both he and the Celtics ever wanted.

Blakely's Takeaways: Hayward's O, Smart's D stand out>>>

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Kemba Walker sheds light on decision to sign with Celtics over Knicks

Kemba Walker sheds light on decision to sign with Celtics over Knicks

Kemba Walker was this close to becoming a New York Knick instead of a Boston Celtic last summer.

Before signing a four-year, $141 million contract with the C's, Walker considered the Knicks in free agency. The 30-year-old said last fall he believed Boston was "just a better fit" for him despite New York being his hometown team.

Walker shed more light on whether he had serious interest in joining the Knicks during this week's episode of The Ringer's "R2C2" podcast.

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Raptors, which begins Friday at 8 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live followed by tip-off at 9 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.

“To be honest, yes. Yes. Very serious, very,” Walker said ... "Before Boston actually came along, the Knicks were one of my top priorities, actually, because I was thinking they were gonna get another player. But it didn’t work out.”

Watch below:

New York was rumored to be in the running to sign Kyrie Irving and/or Kevin Durant, but both stars chose the Brooklyn Nets instead. It was a rough offseason for the Knicks, to say the least.

In his first year as a Celtic, Walker is averaging 20.8 points and 4.8 assists per game. The four-time All-Star has dealt with a nagging knee injury over the last several months but is encouraged by the progress he's made in the Orlando bubble.

"For me to feel like myself again, it definitely feels good. Just gives me a lot of confidence heading into those games," Walker said on the "R2C2" podcast.

The C's will need a healthy Walker if they're to have a shot at Banner 18.

To listen to the full episode, go here.

Celtics Talk Podcast: Can Romeo Langford, Robert Williams shine vs. Raptors?

Celtics Talk Podcast: Can Romeo Langford, Robert Williams shine vs. Raptors?

The Boston Celtics gave their best performance of the NBA's restart in Wednesday night's blowout win over the Brooklyn Nets, and a boost from two of their most recent first-round picks played a key role in the victory.

Boston's bench scoring has been hit or miss in the seeding games so far, but the second unit didn't disappoint against the Nets. Second-year center Robert Williams scored a career-high 18 points with five rebounds and three blocks. Rookie guard Romeo Langford didn't make a huge impact offensively with only four points, but his defense was fantastic. 

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Raptors, which begins Friday at 8 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live followed by tip-off at 9 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.

The Nets are one of the worst teams in the Orlando bubble, so while the performances of Williams and Langford are no doubt encouraging, the Celtics need these guys to make a similar impact versus the top teams in the Eastern Conference, too. 

On a new episode of the Celtics Talk Podcast, our C's insider Chris Forsberg gives his take on Williams' and Langford's play so far, and what the future holds for them with the playoffs approaching.

"Here's what I think Brad will take away. He'll sit back and he'll say, none of these guys have really stepped up and grasped their opportunity through the scrimmage games and early seeding games, and with a chance because Kemba (Walker) was out and the starters didn't play a lot of minutes (against the Nets), (the young guys) finally sort of grasped the opportunity," Forsberg said. "But again, it's what you do from there. ... It's not like you have one good game and (Celtics coach Brad Stevens) just throws you in there. If I had to guess which rookie is still most likely to have the biggest impact, I'm starting to lean toward Langford because he has shown defensively that you can put him in there and even in small bursts of minutes be able to give you something, and to be a steady presence. I think that's important.

Celtics Talk Podcast: Can Rob Williams, Langford help C's carry momentum vs Raptors? | Listen & subscribe | Watch on YouTube

"It's nice to see Rob Williams out there, and there were still a good amount of defenses lapses -- a lot of which he makes up for because he's so athletic. But when I convene the Robert Williams fan club for our weekly meeting tonight, I'm going to tell the congregation, look, let's not get too high or too low, we have to see Rob come back and build off (Wednesday night). My hope is that Rob is the first guy in the gym, even on an off day after two games. That he's in there working, busting his butt and showing that he's ready for that opportunity. If he does that, he's got a better chance to get some minutes. If he got a DNP (against the Raptors), I wouldn't be shocked because that's how Brad operates. But Grant (Williams), Romeo -- one of those guys is going to get a chance in the playoffs and they have to be ready for that opportunity."

Robert Williams could see some action versus the Raptors for the simple fact that Toronto is a pretty big team. He would be a good matchup against Raptors center Marc Gasol or power forward Serge Ibaka. Grant Williams also has good size and a high defensive IQ, so he could match up against those Raptors big men as well. 

Coaches typically shorten their rotations in the playoffs and only give minutes to players they can trust. But there are plenty of scenarios, including foul trouble, injuries, etc., that force guys at the end of the bench to play a role. For the Celtics to make a deep playoff run, they'll need young players such as Langford and both Williams' to give them some good minutes against contending teams. 

One of the best ways to find out which players are capable of handling that burden is actually giving them minutes before the playoffs, and Friday's game against the Raptors is a good opportunity to see how these young guys respond.

Check out the latest episode of the Celtics Talk Podcast on your favorite podcast app or watch it on YouTube below.