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BOSTON -- There is an across-the-board empathy right now among Boston Celtics players and coaches for Gordon Hayward who will be out for about six weeks following surgery to repair a fourth metacarpal fracture in his left hand.
But with Hayward’s unavailability comes opportunity for others, an all-too-common rally cry for the Boston Celtics this season with injuries/illnesses impacting them both in their already-thin frontcourt as well as among their perimeter players like Hayward.
And it is that latter point - opportunity - that seems to resonate more than anything else with this Celtics team.
Simply put, they have collectively vowed to ignore what they don’t have and instead focus on who’s available.
And as we saw in Boston’s 116-106 win over Dallas, the Celtics have a roster full of players chomping at the bit to gobble up those 30-plus minutes that used to belong to Hayward.
Here’s a look at the four Celtics players who benefited the most from Hayward’s absence on Monday.
Brown led all Celtics in minutes played (38 minutes, nine seconds) on Monday, and his impact was felt all night.
With Hayward around, we saw flashes of being an above average two-way standout from Brown.
But with Hayward sidelined, Brown seems to have taken his play at both ends of the floor to another level. He was among the Celtics who had a turn at making Luka Doncic (34 points, nine assists, six rebounds) work a lot harder to put his imprint on the game than he was used to.
And it was Brown who maybe more than anyone else, really put the Celtics on the pathway to success with a strong start to the third quarter.
With the score 54-all at the half, Boston opened the third with a 15-3 run which included Brown scoring seven of his 25 points for the night.
Often forgotten in Hayward’s strong play has been him averaging more than seven rebounds per game, a career high.
Brown filled that gap as well on Monday while grabbing a game-high 11 rebounds which gave him his first double-double this season.
“Trying to win,” Brown told NBC Sports Boston’s Abby Chin shortly after Monday’s win, Boston’s eighth in a row. “I’m just trying to keep winning. Whatever we gotta do, I’m all for.”
Even with Gordon Hayward, Marcus Smart has done a solid job this season of balancing his scoring with his playmaking. On Monday, with Smart in the starting lineup for Hayward, it was more of the same as he finished with 17 points on an extremely efficient 6-for-9 shooting night akin to what we’ve seen from Hayward. Smart also dished out a team-high six assists. Smart has been at his best this season finding an assortment of ways to contribute to winning, whether it be shooting 3’s or his customary tough play defensively.
But what’s lost in his play with Hayward out, is Smart’s defense. There are a number of defensive switches that Smart is now involved in, that would have involved Hayward. That more times than not, is going to be to Boston’s benefit which was indeed the case on Monday when Smart found himself on multiple occasions having to defend Kristaps Porzingis who is 10 inches taller than Smart.
Despite the height disadvantage, Porzingis was a non-factor in large part because of Smart’s defense which heavily factored in the 7-foot-2 big man finishing with more fouls committed (5) than points scored.
“I just use my strength and my quickness,” Smart said. “He obviously has the height advantage over me. Really, for us it was keeping our hands back. He loves to do the sweep-through move.”
And the idea that teams will likely look to go at players with a significant height advantage on him … “keep it coming; plain and simple, keep it coming,” Smart said.
Summer league and preseason success doesn’t always translate to regular season rotation minutes, but that’s essentially the opportunity that’s presenting itself to Javonte Green.
The 6-4 wing played a career-high 13 minutes and 25 seconds against Dallas before tallying nine points on 4-for-8 shooting to go with a career-high two steals.
While more than holding his own prior to the regular season would provide a nice jolt of confidence to most, that was not the case with Green.
When he steps on to the court, he plays with the kind of confidence you don’t expect to see from a player who barely made the 15-man roster.
And with his knack for getting points quickly, he becomes an ideal addition to the rotation because of his ability to score on multiple levels in addition to having the kind of athleticism that delivers a highlight-quality play in no time that can be uplifting to the Celtics and deflating to foes.
“I’ve been playing this game 20-plus years,” Green told NBC Sports Boston. “I just feel like I play my game, that’s the reason why I’m here and that’s what got me to where I’m at now.”
It was a bit of a head-scratcher to some when Brad Wanamaker decided to re-sign with the Celtics after having such a limited role a year ago. But nine games into the season and it’s clear why he wanted to be back and why the Celtics are glad he made that choice.
Against the Mavericks, he came off the bench and scored a season-high 10 points on 4-for-7 shooting. He also had four rebounds and two assists without a single turnover.
“That kid just knows how to play,” said Hall of Famer Tommy Heinsohn. “He’s a good, solid player when he’s out there.”
And it is that consistency as an additional playmaker that makes him an ideal add-on to the rotation with Hayward out.
With a strong, 6-foot-3 frame, Wanamaker has the strength and lateral quickness to defend both guard positions and some small-ball small forwards, too. And when he’s switched out on a bigger player, similar to Marcus Smart, Wanamaker is able to use his strength to at least compete and not make it a given that the bigger player will score.
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