Celtics

Roller coaster of a season, Celtics riding high these days with Hayward

Roller coaster of a season, Celtics riding high these days with Hayward

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- When it comes to big performances, Gordon Hayward has been consistent in not getting too high on his play or too low when he struggles. 

But Wednesday night was different. 

The usually emotionally reserved Hayward couldn’t contain himself after draining a game-winning shot with two seconds to play that lifted Boston to a 111-109 victory. 

And neither could his teammates who, when he has had big games scoring the ball in the past, drenched him with cups of Gatorade during his post-game interview with NBC Sports Boston.

“Gordon made a great play there at the end,” said Kings head coach Dave Joerger. “I thought it was just a terrific basketball game.”

For Hayward to drain the game-winning shot was fitting when you consider it was Hayward fouling Sacramento’s Buddy Hield shortly before that on a 3-point attempt that allowed Hield to go to the free throw line where he made all three of his free throws to tie the game at 109. 

As Hayward made his way up the court for what turned into the game-winning shot following Hield's free throws, Hayward recognized that Sacramento’s defenders were covering his teammates tightly. 

Which meant no help-side defense if he decided to attack the paint. 

“It was almost like a one-on-one,” said Hayward who had 12 points on 6-for-10 shooting which included of course, the game-winning shot with two seconds to play. 

☘️ CELTICS 111, KINGS 109

For those who may not remember, there was a time not that long ago when Hayward’s ability to take guys off the dribble and score with and without contact, was a strength. 

He’s not back to that point yet, but there’s no denying his play on Wednesday was yet another step in the right direction for Hayward whose confidence continues to grow as the season inches closer and closer to the playoffs.

“He should have plenty of confidence,”  Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said of Hayward. “He’s a heck of a player and we all believe in him.”

And Wednesday’s performance came on the heels of Boston’s 33-point drubbing of the Golden State Warriors, a game in which Hayward came off the bench to lead all scorers with 30 points.

As impressive as Hayward’s 30-point explosion was, it pales in comparison to what draining a game-winning shot on the road means to both Hayward and the Celtics. 

“As soon as he shot that one, it looked good,” said Boston’s Al Horford who had a strong game of his own with 21 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists and a blocked shot. “I’m just happy for him. Through ups and downs, he stayed with it and made that huge shot at the end.”

“It was great to see him make a big shot like that,” said Morris who added that the Celtics wanted no part of an overtime game. “We’re all happy for him. We’re just gonna keep rolling.” 

And they will do so supporting Hayward, who has had his share of naysayers this season. 

“It shows the confidence he still has,” Morris said. “He’s building, building. A lot of people have been trying to write him off, say he’s not going to be what he was. As a player, that’s tough. He’s done a great job of bottling all that in and continue to play and continue to perform at a high level for us. 

Morris added, “We just hope he continues to grow and continues to get better. We’re gonna ride with him.”

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Kemba Walker stays ready, even in blowouts, when it matters for the Celtics

Kemba Walker stays ready, even in blowouts, when it matters for the Celtics

BOSTON -- Kemba Walker had every reason to think that his night was over going into the fourth quarter. 

Boston had a commanding lead against a Cleveland Cavaliers squad that’s considered one of the worst teams in the NBA. 

But as the game got a little too close for head coach Brad Stevens’ comfort, he turned to Walker.

And Walker responded with a barrage of 3-pointers that left the Cavs as nothing more than collateral damage in the wake of Boston’s 110-88 win. 

Walker finished with a game-high 22 points which included a trio of 3-pointers in the fourth quarter that put the Cavs (5-18) away for good. 

Boston led by as many as 29 points in the second half, only to see that lead down to as little as 14 points in the fourth with seven minutes to play. 

That’s when he called on Walker who came up with one big shot after another. 

And the way Walker responded in the fourth quarter when called upon by Stevens was a reminder of just how important it has become for the best players to be locked in from the opening tip-off to the final horn - even when victory seems all but a given. 

Said Stevens: “I just told the team afterwards, ‘If you want to be special then model after Kemba because Kemba sits over there thinks his night’s done, gets put back into the game, drills three 3’s and ends it.

Stevens added, “Special is not for everybody.”

Having spent his first eight seasons with the Charlotte Hornets, Walker knows exactly what the Cavs were thinking as they steadily chipped away at Boston’s lead.

Understanding the mindset of a team and players on the comeback trail has helped Walker appreciate and embrace the need to always stay on top of his game and ready to go - even when victory seems all but a given. 

Walker understands how a player can lose focus on the game and become relaxed down the stretch in what appears to be a blowout in the making. 

“It’s possible,” Walker says before adding, “But at the end of the day you have to stay engaged through the whole game. You just never know. In this league, 20-point leads go so fast. Teams can score in bunches really fast. You have to stay engaged.”

Which is exactly what he did. 

That not only helped Boston get the victory on Monday, but also served as a great example for the team’s younger players on how to handle themselves when things get sidetracked after going just the way they want them to for most of the game. 

“He set a great example, what he’s done in this league for a very long time,” Tatum said. “That’s why he’s one of the best players in the league.”

And a leader on this team. 

“As one of the leaders I feel I have to stay engaged,” Walker said. “Just like … you never know what to expect.  This league, guys can score so fast and easy. You just never know when teams will come back. It can get a little nerve-racking and Brad felt he had to put me back in. I knew once I got in there, I had to be more aggressive, look for my shot a little more and that’s what I did.”

Blakely's Takeaways: C's home dominance keying hot start>>>

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Pacers, which tips off Wednesday at 6 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Mike & Scal have the call at 7 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.

Jaylen Brown on Grant Williams' 3-point woes: 'We were calling him Ben Simmons'

Jaylen Brown on Grant Williams' 3-point woes: 'We were calling him Ben Simmons'

After an 0-for-25 streak to begin his NBA career, Grant Williams finally hit his first 3-pointer on Monday night.

The Boston Celtics rookie has taken his struggles in stride and laughed off nicknames given to him by his teammates throughout the cold spell. The funniest nickname of all, though, was revealed by Jaylen Brown after Monday's win over the Cavaliers.

Blakely's Takeaways: C's home dominance keying hot start

"Yeah, we were calling him Ben Simmons," Brown said.

Hilarious.

Simmons' 3-point shooting woes are well-documented. The Philadelphia 76ers star has only attempted 21 3s in his three-year career and made two of them (2-for-4 this season). So comparing Williams to him definitely was a low blow, but maybe that's the motivation the 21-year-old needed to drain the first of his career and get on a hot streak.

The C's will take on the 76ers at TD Garden on Thursday, so all eyes are sure to be on both Williams and Simmons whenever the young guns are open behind the 3-point line.

C's-Cavs Instant Overreactions: Hayward's back like he never left>>>

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Pacers, which tips off Wednesday at 6 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Mike & Scal have the call at 7 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.