With Gordon Hayward in action for the first time in almost a full calendar year, and with Kyrie Irving back in action after knee surgery put an end to his 2017-18 season before the start of the 2018 NBA Playoffs, Brad Stevens gave everybody a taste of the weapons the Boston Celtics have at their disposal.
And while the Celtics lost by a 104-97 final, it was everybody’s first look at that fearsome Irving, Hayward, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, and Al Horford that was worth noting in this one.
In what was a definite ‘getting your basketball legs’ back affair, Hayward logged 22 minutes, and finished the night with 10 points on a 2-for-7 night from the floor (and 1-for-5 mark from deep). Hayward, who started at the No. 2, also came through with three rebounds and one assist.
Gordon Hayward for three ???? pic.twitter.com/yLrIfrGPLn— Celtics on NBC Sports Boston (@NBCSCeltics) September 29, 2018
Irving, meanwhile, also got in on the fun, with nine points behind a 4-of-10 shooting night.
Kyrie's first bucket of the season ???????? pic.twitter.com/uVUIJztGcC— Ankle Taker (@KyriesHandle) September 28, 2018
It almost goes without saying that both these players will be better once everybody gets on the same page, and that their shooting luck is likely to turn based on the group’s skill level alone.
“I thought [Irving and Hayward] both did a lot of good things,” Stevens said after the loss. “And first time back, it’s pretty remarkable the level those two can play at it. Probably missed some shots that they normally would make, but we all did that. I thought they both looked good.”
What you had to love about this starting five, though, was just the litany of options the Celtics had.
You saw Brown go with a take-charge role of sorts, and while Tatum and/or Hayward were wide open. You saw Irving drive towards the basket with no ill effects of last year’s knee injury, and got a sneak peek of the way these guys can create space for one another.
Led by their starters, as well as some solid bench production, the Celtics carried a 60-45 lead into the first half. But it was behind a 39-point third quarter from the Hornets that Charlotte gained control of this game — with some help from the Celtics going 1-for-20 from deep in the second half — before they ultimately pulled away late in the fourth quarter, scoring eight of the game’s final nine points.
Second-year pro Semi Ojeleye led all Celtic players with 23 minutes (though he went 0-for-8 shooting), while Brown finished as Boston’s top scorer, with 14 points. 2018 first-round pick Robert Williams III drew in for nine minutes, and contributed three points, all by way of the free throw.
The Celtics will return to TD Garden for a Sunday night preseason rematch against the Hornets.