Thunder-Celtics Instant Overreactions: Why Gordon Hayward needs his midrange game

Thunder-Celtics Instant Overreactions: Why Gordon Hayward needs his midrange game

The Boston Celtics and the Oklahoma City Thunder engaged in a close game Sunday night at TD Garden. While the Celtics held a double-digit lead at halftime, they gradually let the game go, which created a back-and-forth fourth quarter.

Ultimately, the Celtics weren't able to win against the Thunder. Dennis Schroder had a late-game steal and layup to put the Thunder up one point with 8.5 seconds left. Jayson Tatum missed the Celtics' final chance to earn a victory.

Here are three instant overreactions to the Celtics' loss, starting with the return of Gordon Hayward.

1. Gordon Hayward should keep shooting the mid-range shot

Verdict: Not an overreaction

Taking too many mid-range shots is frowned upon in the modern NBA. The reason behind that is analytically based, as teams value shots close to the bucket and only view longer-range shots as valuable if they're from behind the 3-point line.

But Hayward still takes a fair amount of mid-range shots and we saw that on Sunday night. In the first half, Hayward made five shots. The first three came within 13 and 18 feet of the basket.

Simply put, Hayward has a good feel for that range. According to NBA Advanced Stats, he shoots 48.4 percent in the 10-to-14-foot range, second-best on the Celtics behind Marcus Smart among players averaging at least one attempt per game from that area. And in the 15-to-19-foot range, Hayward makes 40 percent of his attempts, fourth-best on the team.

While it may be frustrating to see Hayward miss the occasional shot from that area, it's still one that he should continue to shoot from. As we saw against the Thunder, he was able to spark his offensive production from that range after he missed his first three shots on the evening. He went 9-for-16 following that, including a strong 4-for-6 beyond the arc in that span, largely thanks to those mid-range shots.

So if the mid-range game makes Hayward most comfortable and gets him in rhythm, he should continue to utilize it, especially early on in games.

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2. The Celtics didn't take enough 3-pointers late against the Thunder

Verdict: Overreaction

The Celtics had a strange game from beyond the arc against the Thunder. Through three quarters, they had 36 3-point attempts and it seemed like they'd have a chance to come close to their season-high of 49.

But in the fourth quarter, they only took one shot from behind the arc. They finished the game with 37 attempts.

So the question is, should they have attempted more threes? Some may argue yes based on the final result of the game. But the reality is that when the Celtics take 35+ 3-point shots in a game, they have a 20-11 record. So more often than not, they win when they chuck about 37 3-point attempts. They just didn't Sunday.

Maybe they should've taken a few more threes in the fourth quarter, especially considering that they had a couple of bad misses at the rim late from Kemba Walker and Jayson Tatum. But their problem wasn't taking too few threes. It was not making enough of the open chances that they had late in the contest and not balancing long-range and interior shots throughout the game.

3. Romeo Langford needs to continue to be aggressive to earn more playing time

Verdict: Not an overreaction

Langford was the top bench player for the Celtics against the Thunder. He played the most bench minutes (20) and made an impact on the game with his aggressive play.

Early on, Langford was flying around the court and did what he could to impact plays. After checking in, Langford was nearly able to notch a steal and disrupt a Thunder possession. Shortly after that, he showed great defensive instincts and took a charge, as you can see below.

Langford also crashed the boards, notching five total during the game, and did a lot to help the Celtics compete. And his dunk after an offensive rebound in the fourth quarter was a thing of beauty.

Langford still made some mistakes, but the 19-year-old rookie showcased exactly what he can bring to the floor on any given night for the C's. And his six-point, five-rebound, one-steal stat line plus the energy he brought should help him earn a role in the rotation. If he can stay aggressive and consistent as he was Sunday, that will give him a chance to earn more minutes off the bench for the C's.

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Pacers-Celtics, which begins Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live, followed by tip-off at 7 p.m. You can also stream on the MyTeams App.

WATCH: Jayson Tatum ribs Bam Adebayo after Heat star crashes interview

WATCH: Jayson Tatum ribs Bam Adebayo after Heat star crashes interview

Only in the NBA bubble could two budding stars battle on the court one moment then ham it up in the media room the next.

Celtics forward Jayson Tatum was speaking to reporters via video conference Tuesday night after Boston's 112-106 loss to Miami when Heat big man Bam Adebayo strode into the room for his own interview session.

Adebayo wasn't in a waiting mood, though, so he tried to distract Tatum with a few incredulous looks from the corner.

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Here's the entertaining scene, as captured by ESPN's Rachel Nichols in Orlando:

Props to Tatum for maintaining his focus as Adebayo tried to run interference. The two young stars then shared a playful exchange in which Tatum appeared to chide Adebayo for benefiting from some whistles. (The Heat big man scored 11 of his 21 points on free throws thanks to 18 free throw attempts, a game high.)

"You shot free throws like you won MVP or something," Tatum appeared to tell Adebayo.

Their banter was all in good nature: Tatum and Adebayo were teammates in the 2016 McDonald's All-American Game and entered the 2017 NBA Draft together, so they go way back. But Tatum still may have had a bitter taste in his mouth after picking up five fouls and getting hit with a technical in Tuesday's loss.

Both players are also in the running for the NBA's Most Improved Player Award amid career seasons; Adebayo is averaging a double-double (16.3 points, 10.5 rebounds) with 1.3 blocks per game for Miami, while Tatum is racking up 23.4 points and seven rebounds per game as he blossoms into an NBA star.

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NBA Restart: Celtics still waiting on any bench player to step up

NBA Restart: Celtics still waiting on any bench player to step up

We could sit here and scream about how poor Boston’s defense has been inside the bubble. The Celtics own a defensive rating of 117.9 after their first three seeding games, and only one team has a worse mark (the helter-skelter Sixers).

We could lament Boston’s lethargy after the team whiffed Tuesday with a chance to essentially lock up the No. 3 seed while playing a Jimmy Butler-less Miami Heat team that was on the second night of a back-to-back.

Boston hasn’t played with any sort of consistent energy in its three games, falling behind early against Milwaukee, coughing up a big lead against Portland, and trying to play catchup all night against Miami.

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Nets, which begins Wednesday 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.

But here’s one thought we couldn’t shake while watching Tuesday’s game: What a luxury it is for Miami to have a rookie like Tyler Herro on their bench. Herro chipped in 11 points over 22 minutes during the Heat’s 112-106 triumph.

With Marcus Smart in foul trouble — so much so that he fouled out late in the third quarter — Boston lacked a bench boost. Take away Enes Kanter’s 10 points and the Celtics’ reserve trio of Grant Williams, Brad Wanamaker, and Smart combined for 14 points on 4-of-18 shooting.

At one point during the second half, Celtics coach Brad Stevens dispatched Romeo Langford for his first seeding-game minutes but Langford turned in a scoreless 3 minutes, 44 seconds, in which he mostly blended into the scenery.

Herro, of course, went one spot ahead of Langford in the 2019 draft. There had been a buzz before draft night that the Celtics were fond of Herro and that he had impressed the team with his shooting in one of his workouts. There might have even been a few groans inside the Auerbach Center when Miami snagged the Kentucky product at No. 13.

The Celtics ultimately took Langford, who has no shortage of potential and might eventually be a better pro. But his rookie season got off to a slow start as he healed from hand surgery and then he dealt with a bunch of minor maladies that even limited how much floor time he got with the Maine Red Claws of the G-League.

Herro has now appeared in 50 games for Miami while shooting a robust 39 percent beyond the 3-point arc on 5.4 attempts per game. He wasn’t even Miami’s best rookie this season — that distinction goes to Kendrick Nunn — but Herro won Erik Spoelstra’s confidence and is now a key rotation piece while logging 26.9 minutes per game.

On Tuesday, Miami’s four-man bench combined for 43 points on 31 shots while each player logged at least 21 minutes of floor time. For Boston, Semi Ojeleye missed five of his six shots, including multiple open 3s. Smart finished 0-for-5 shooting.

Make no mistake, Boston will lean heavy on its core players when the playoffs arrive. When Kemba Walker is off his minute restriction, and combined with a hefty dose of Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Gordon Hayward, that might leave only a small handful of minutes for reserves not named Smart.

Still, games like Tuesday night show how important it is to have players that can take the baton, even if it’s only on rare nights. None of Boston’s younger players have shown enough this year to earn Stevens’ unwavering trust.

Again, guys like Grant Williams and Langford could have bright futures. Maybe Carsen Edwards and Tremont Waters, too. That’s especially important for Boston because of how much money they have tied up long term in their core players.

But the fact of that matter is that, right now, none of Boston’s rookies have seized their opportunity, nor has 2018 first-round pick Robert Williams, who was only inserted late in Tuesday’s game to defend an inbounds attempt with his length and bounce.

Those players could get another chance to show what they’ve got on Wednesday when Boston plays a back-to-back against the Nets. With Walker set to rest his knee and Stevens unlikely to go too heavy on starter minutes in the team’s first (and only) bubble double, younger players will need to take advantage of whatever minutes come their way.

Herro won’t be the difference between a first-round upset and a first-round exit for Miami. But the Heat are well-positioned moving into the future because of the progress their youngest players made this season. It’s critical teams develop talent if they are going to commit most of their money to their top stars.

The Celtics are left waiting for their youngest players to show they are ready.

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