By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
What you’ve seen in the last 24 hours, first against the Golden State Warriors and then against the Sacramento Kings, is exactly what the Celtics thought they were getting in Gordon Hayward before That Night in Cleveland.
Hint, hint: It’s all kinds of awesome.
In what finished as a 111-109 win for the Celtics on Wednesday night, it was Hayward that delivered in the closing moments, successfully weaving up the court and hitting a gorgeous baseline fadeaway in about five seconds flat.
It was the cherry on top of a 12-point, five-assist, three-rebound night that saw No. 20 pretty much do it all.
Oh, and consider this: Hayward was indeed leading the Celtic attack as the team’s No. 1 for large chunks of the night. Terry Rozier was obviously filling in for the injured Kyrie Irving, but backup point guard Brad Wanamaker never checked into this game, and that’s simply because he didn’t need to with Hayward playing as efficiently as he did in a 29-minute effort.
But perhaps most encouraging was the fact that Hayward looked like this on the second leg of a back-to-back.
It’s no secret that these games are not easy on the body (especially when you factor travel into it all), but Hayward never seemed to truly fade here. Sure, the late-game foul he committed on Buddy Hield was not the greatest, but that’s a call that happens to legitimately every player in this league when going up against somebody with the speeds and smarts of the 26-year-old scorer.
The Celtics would love to tell you that Hayward has been in great shape all year (and they certainly have), but Wednesday night was the first night that it truly looked as if Hayward was conditioned enough to be a legitimate factor for this team.
And at the perfect time.
Here are some other random thoughts and notes from a 111-109 win in Sacramento…
Al Horford comes through with monster effort
Listen, Kyrie Irving is without a doubt Boston’s most talented player. You could probably get away with saying that Jayson Tatum is their second-most talented. But I’m not sure that anybody is more important to the Green’s success than Al Horford.
I mean. Horford was downright vicious for the Celtics in this one. Stevens constantly drew up plays and matchups for Horford to exploit mismatches, while Horford delivered countless buckets and key stops in what was an undeniably physical contest.
Finishing his night with makes on all but two of his 10 field goals, the steady Horford also collected 11 rebounds, added seven assists, and was a game-best plus-18 in 30:52 of action as Boston’s center.
Is this sign of what’s to come with Kyrie Irving down stretch?
According to the Celtics, it was a thigh bruise that kept Kyrie Irving out of Wednesday’s victory.
Now, not that I want to sit here and accuse the Celtics of inventing medicals, but I do wonder if thigh bruise was short for “Irving played 99 minutes over a three-game, five-day stretch and we don’t really think this Kings game is worth it for his long-term health.” I mean, I wouldn’t blame them, as ‘thigh bruise’ rolls off the tongue infinitely better.
In other words, there just seems to be some workload management here between Irving and the Celtics, and you have to wonder if there’s more on the way given this team’s upcoming schedule. Just looking ahead here, they have a Saturday matinee against the Atlanta Hawks that kicks off a three-in-five stretch with meetings against the Nuggets and 76ers. After that, the Celtics will have a back-to-back against the Hornets and Spurs before a trip out to Cleveland. Seems like another night off.
I know this is sometimes considered ‘soft’ or whatever, but it honestly makes total sense for everybody, as the Celtics have been able to survive without Kyrie most nights (they’re 10-2 when he sits) and desperately want to see Playoff Kyrie at full health this spring. (There’s also the fact that a deep playoff run could truly convince Kyrie that Boston is where it’s at long-term.)
Read as: This probably isn’t the last we’ve seen of the thigh bruise.
Stevens seemed beyond happy game didn’t go to overtime
I thoroughly enjoyed Brad Stevens just straight-up admitting that he didn’t think the Celtics had the ‘juice’ to win that game had it gone to overtime. Hard to disagree, really. Buddy Hield was heating up in a major way, and the Celtics were by all means lucky that every other King seemed hellbent on losing that game for them with gross turnovers, bad looks, and dumb fouls. The final 120 seconds of that game honestly felt like some of the more chaotic, rockfight-like basketball this team has played. On the second leg of a back-to-back, there’s no way the Celtics (sporting a big lineup) could have done another five minutes of that.
The Celtics will get a little rest before they get back at it Saturday night against LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers.