Celtics

What NBA's return-to-action plan means for the Celtics

What NBA's return-to-action plan means for the Celtics

When the NBA season was put on pause in March, the timing could not have been much better for the Boston Celtics. 

Wins were getting harder to come by (they had lost three of their last five), the jacuzzi-hot play of Jayson Tatum was starting to cool off some and Kemba Walker was headed towards a stretch of “strategic rest” days off because of knee soreness. 

And just like the rest of the NBA is fired up about the potential return to play reportedly as early as the end of late July, the Celtics are an eager bunch to restart the season as well. 

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And they should be for a number of reasons. 

First and foremost, there’s a very real chance that they can move up in the standings if the league adopts the reported return-to-play model which includes eight regular season games before the playoffs. 

Currently third in the East, the Celtics would begin the postseason against Philadelphia if the league went straight into the playoffs — an idea that hasn’t garnered a ton of support from owners or players. 

An eight-game slate of games would provide Boston with enough opportunities to potentially move ahead of Toronto and secure the No. 2 seed in the East. 

The way the standings look now, the potential for movement is great for many teams. 

Boston (43-21) trails the Raptors (46-18) by three games in the standings. Behind the Celtics you find the Heat (41-24) who are 2.5 games back.

The next closest teams to Boston beyond those two are Indiana and Philadelphia (both 39-26) who each trail Boston by 4.5 games. 

For the Celtics’ sake, moving up from their current draft position and avoiding a first-round matchup with Philadelphia would be the preferred path to take this postseason. 

The Sixers, one of the bigger disappointments this season, will feature a healthy Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, making them a much tougher foe come playoff time. 

For the Celtics, the alternative if they move up would be a Brooklyn Nets team that’s expected to play this postseason without Kyrie Irving or Kevin Durant who have both been out recovering from injuries. 

There’s also a chance that Boston would face the Indiana Pacers in the first round if the C's remain as the Eastern Conference’s No. 3 seed which, similar to facing Philadelphia, would provide a tough first-round matchup. 

The reboot to the season also allows more time for the Celtics to adjust to what’s shaping up to be a new pecking order. 

While Walker is the team’s most proven, most decorated talent, there’s no escaping the inevitable rise of Tatum as the face of the franchise (if he’s not already there). 

As the season wore on, his ascension was undeniable. Tatum began the season as a player the Celtics were hoping to see blossom into a big-time talent with the departures of Irving (Brooklyn) and Al Horford (Philadelphia).

Following his first All-Star appearance in February, Tatum averaged 29.9 points, 7.9 rebounds and 3.1 assists while shooting 47.2 percent from the field and 46.8 percent on 3’s. His ability to pick up where he left off would go far in Boston’s quest to build off the successes they had this past season. 

As for Walker, he had missed some games and played limited minutes in others shortly before the season was paused thanks to knee soreness.

The extended downtime without games or practice should allow Walker to return to action revived and refreshed.

And him being healthy combined with Tatum’s improved play gives the Celtics a potent 1-2 punch as they inch closer to rebooting the system and in doing so, restarting their journey towards what they believe will be a deep postseason run. 

2020 NBA restart: Celtics' three-game scrimmage schedule in Orlando revealed

2020 NBA restart: Celtics' three-game scrimmage schedule in Orlando revealed

By this time three weeks from now, the Boston Celtics will be back on the court playing other NBA teams.

The Celtics' first game of the 2020 NBA season restart isn't until July 31, but they'll start warming up a week earlier with three scrimmage games at Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Fla.

Here's Boston's three-game scrimmage schedule in the bubble:

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Friday, July 24
Celtics vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (5 p.m. ET)

Sunday, July 26
Celtics vs. Phoenix Suns (1:30 p.m. ET)

Tuesday, July 28
Celtics vs. Houston Rockets (8 p.m. ET)

The C's face three Western Conference opponents who aren't on their eight-game "seeding round" slate. Their final tune-up against James Harden, Russell Westbrook and the Rockets should be entertaining, although it's possible each team's starters play limited minutes as squads shake off the rust.

The NBA plans to release "potential" broadcast details at a later date, so it's unclear whether any of these games will be televised.

The Celtics began official practices July 1 and are set to travel to Orlando between July 7 and 9, where they'll join 21 other teams in the "bubble." Boston is the current No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference and could be a legitimate championship contender.

Check out the Celtics' eight-game seeding schedule below:

Gordon Hayward recalls rollercoaster Celtics tenure, three years after signing

Gordon Hayward recalls rollercoaster Celtics tenure, three years after signing

It was three years ago that the fireworks that Celtics co-owner Wyc Grousbeck had previously talked about (and we absolutely loved to talk about over and over and over again), actually came to fruition for the Celtics. 

That's when Boston did what no Celtics team under Danny Ainge’s watch had ever done. 

They went out and signed an All-Star free agent, then-27-year-old Gordon Hayward, who was still in his prime as a player. 

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“I can’t believe it’s been three years already, to be honest,” Hayward said during a teleconference call with reporters on Friday. “A lot has happened for me, for my family.”

It is impossible to look at the Hayward narrative in Boston without delving into the gruesome left leg injury he suffered just five minutes into this first game as a Boston Celtic. 

Once he was cleared to resume playing, there was the usual rust associated with a long layover. But more than the time off, Hayward had hurdles to clear beyond being physically able to return to play. 

For most of his career, Hayward leaned on his basketball instincts when it came to making plays at both ends of the floor. 

The injury changed that. 

Hayward had developed the kind of muscle memory with his game that allowed him to ascend to an All-Star level while in Utah, with play that on many nights looked seemingly effortless. The injury, which sidelined him for the rest of the 2017-2018 season, forced him to work at bridging the divide that now existed between his mind and body as far as what he was capable of doing on the court.

It wasn’t all that surprising that it led to mixed results, with Hayward looking like the best player on the floor some nights and then inexplicably struggling against inferior competition the next. 

And just like fans at times would become frustrated with his inconsistent play, Hayward wasn’t enjoying this rollercoaster of emotions fueled by his up-and-down play either. 

The 6-foot-8 forward has spent his entire basketball career working to strengthen his body to withstand the physical rigors that come with being a slashing, attacking-the-rim wing who can also make teams pay for sagging off him with a mid-range game that can extend beyond the 3-point line. 

But the injury forced Hayward to really work at strengthening his mind, something that he quickly acknowledged as being the biggest takeaway from his time thus far in Boston. 

“For sure I hit a low during my injury,” Hayward said. “And had to work more than ever on that mental side, more than I ever had in my basketball career on that mental side. That’s for sure something that takes work.”

The topic of mental health among professional athletes has gained significant traction in recent years as a discussion which professional players such as Hayward are far more comfortable addressing publicly. 

“For sure the mental side is where I’ve grown,” he said.

And that growth has Hayward in arguably the best position he has been in as a Celtic. 

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While he was initially brought in to be either the team’s go-to guy or next in line, Hayward has effectively settled into more of a jack-of-all-trades role, allowing him to make an impact of significance without necessarily having to carry the team on a night-in, night-out basis. 

He’s averaging 17.3 points, 6.5 rebounds and 4.1 assists this season, his best numbers in those categories since becoming a Celtic. 

Just as impressive has been his efficiency — he's shooting 50.2 percent from the field and 39.2 percent from 3-point range this season.

And while he’ll be the first to tell you that his time in Boston has indeed been a rollercoaster of sorts, he has no regrets about his decision to become a Celtic which reunited him with his college coach at Butler, Brad Stevens.

“It’s been some great moments for sure,” Hayward said of his time in Boston. “Obviously some not-great moments with the injury and everything but some great moments. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”