Gordon Hayward ‘somewhat sore’ yet pushes through to enable Celtics to win
When Gordon Hayward went up to attempt to block a layup try by Milwaukee Bucks guard Pat Connaughton midway
through the second quarter of the Celtics’ 117-113 victory at TD Garden, it looked like simply one moment among many
in what easily was Hayward’s best game of the young season.
But after Hayward was called for goaltending on the play, he landed fully on his left leg — the same one he suffered a gruesome
injury to last season just six minutes into his Celtics debut, costing him the remainder of 2017-18. Unlike that play, however,
Hayward on Thursday night felt only a momentary flash of pain — and then got up and kept playing.
By the end of the game, he’d not only put up an impressive stat line — a season-high 18 points on 6-for-11 shooting overall,
including 3-for-5 from 3-point range, plus four rebounds, five assists and a block in 27 minutes — but he’d also checked off an
important box in his attempt to return to his pre-injury level of play.
“I can feel it right now,” Hayward said afterward. “It’s definitely a little bit sore … something new that I haven’t done in awhile.
Those are things I just have to work through, maybe some scar tissue that I can grind out a little bit. It did feel a little bit sore, but I think it held up just fine.
“I have to get knocked down. I have to land on that one foot a little awkwardly, just so mentally I know I can do it, but also physically I can hold and be strong.”
Celtics finally break out
This was a night that not only saw the Celtics finally break out of a sluggish start to the season offensively in a big way
they went 24-for-55 from 3-point range as a team, setting a franchise record and coming within one triple of tying the NBA
record — but also saw Hayward give Boston glimpses of what he can do when he’s right.
Hayward opened the scoring for Boston with a 3-pointer, then followed that up with a block on a drive by Bucks guard Malcolm
Brogdon and a driving layup against him at the other end. It was a sign of things to come for Hayward in a game that saw him
show the kind of ballhandling prowess that gives the Celtics another option on the perimeter to create shots. That, in turn, allows
Kyrie Irving to hunt for shots off the ball. Irving had a second straight strong shooting game with 28 points on 10-for-20 shooting
, including 6-for-12 from 3, to go with seven assists.
“It started off with a good start,” Hayward said. “Just was out there competing, playing. … I’ve said it before, but game by game there’s
different things [I’m improving on]. I’m getting more and more comfortable. Had some open looks from three that were good, and was able
to knock them down, and tonight was good for me.”
After being without Hayward for all of last season, and getting used to having him back out on the court so far this season, Boston will welcome
the opportunity for him to get used to playing with his teammates, and potentially giving them the added dimension they
need to take on the league’s elite deep in the postseason.
All five starters
The Celtics began to get a taste of what that could look like against the Bucks. All five starters — including Semi Ojeleye, who replaced
injured guard Jaylen Brown (sore right foot) in the opening lineup — finished the game in double figures, and Marcus Morris had 17 points
off the bench. Just as important, though, was having Irving, Hayward, Al Horford and Jayson Tatum each finish with at least four assists.
For a team that can struggle at times to create shots at the rim — and isn’t going to make 24 threes, or attempt 55 of them, on a regular basis
having multiple players create open looks for their teammates will be a crucial part of improving Boston’s offense, which came into Thursday’s game ranked 28th in the NBA.
“Well, I mean all those guys can make plays,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “Al at the top of the key allows us to get
in more of our cutting and our motion-type actions, which I really like, and we did a good job of that when we went on that little run in the fourth.
More comfortable team
“You’ve got a bunch of guys who can play up there and I think Gordon’s really good off pick-and-rolls. Obviously, he’s a
great passer off of those, and so we’ll just keep feeding all those guys in those different spots. And as the season goes along
and I get more comfortable with the team we’ll add more to try to take advantage of that.”
In the meantime, Hayward and the Celtics are about to embark on a five-game trip, their longest of the season. It will begin with a
homecoming for Hayward in his native Indiana against the Pacers — only for him to make a far-less hospitable return to Utah next
Friday night, where he will play against the Jazz, whom he left as a free agent in 2017, for the first time since he did so.
“I had great years in Utah,” Hayward said. “I thank the Jazz for everything they did for me in my career. I was really looking
forward to last year. Obviously that didn’t happen, but it will be a good game. They’re a good team.”
At the point when asked how awful the booing may be, Hayward grinned and stated, “It’s been a year, so ideally not as
horrible a booing, but rather I’m certain I will get booed. … What will be will be.
“I don’t have the foggiest idea. I don’t comprehend what’s in store. Ideally we get a win.”