A combined 82 points from Kemba Walker, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum in a victory over the Mavericks is evidence the Celtics can win without Gordon Hayward. In fact, Boston is 8-3 with him and 10-4 without him. But a healthy version of the veteran swingman gives the Green their best chance in a loaded Eastern Conference.
Two matchups with the defending champion Raptors before New Year’s Day are enough to ask Santa for a healthy Hayward left foot.
His most recent malady raises concern it might somehow be connected to his ghastly injury on Opening Night 2017, the physical and mental effects of which he's battled for two years. In his weekly conversation with Toucher & Rich, Danny Ainge poured water on that theory, isolating the problem to where the “toe connects with your foot.” That could be plantar fasciitis, maybe a neuroma - definitely something aggravating - but hopefully not something that derails Hayward's comeback season.
A cortisone shot, intended to help the situation, did the opposite. And so, Hayward sits, awaiting yet another MRI result.
With teams crashing through the December 15 barricade when offseason acquisitions became eligible for trades, expect trade rumors to heat up around the contending Celtics. Some have suggested Hayward is expendable, perhaps in a move for a big man. But the chances are high that Ainge sticks with Hayward, with flexibility, performance and optics all factors in that decision.
I’m no sneakerhead, but Instagram tells me Jayson Tatum’s kicks Wednesday night were an homage to his hometown St. Louis Blues. You know, the team that beat the Bruins in last year’s Stanley Cup Final.
The NBA relaxed its uniform policy a while back, and Tatum is among many players taking the opportunity to get creative with his footwear. He’s intensely proud of where he’s from, but for Boston fans, it’s probably a little easier to digest the sight of the Celtics star in a Cardinals cap.
At least he wore these on the road and not on the TD Garden parquet, mere inches above the ice where Boston’s hockey team took an L in Game 7 last June. Time will tell if Tatum’s Blues kicks make an appearance on the home court.
A five-day break going into Wednesday didn’t help Marcus Smart or Hayward get back on the floor, but the lack of games limited the impact on a Celtics frontcourt down Robert Williams and Vincent Poirier. The French import just underwent surgery for a fractured right pinkie, while the Time Lord is dealing with a bone edema in his left hip that will keep him out at least three weeks.
Brad Stevens largely divvied the minutes between Daniel Theis and Enes Kanter against the Mavs. Here are the lines:
Theis: Two points (1-for-3 FG), seven rebounds, one assist, one steal, one block, -14 in 22 minutes.
Kanter: Six points (2-for-10 FG), 13 rebounds (seven offensive), two assists, +21 in 21 minutes.
Tacko Fall did not play, depriving a national TV audience of game simultaneously featuring the Celtics’ giant and 7-foot-4 Boban Marjanovic.
The Mavs didn’t play Boban either. Nor anyone who resembles an old school center. Their tallest player, Kristaps Porzingis, is basically a 7-foot-3 video game create-a-player shooting guard. Dwight Powell is a pick-and-roll guy. Maxi Kleber is a floor spacer.
Kanter missed a lot of shots. But Boston’s own old school big wound up in the most effective pairings of the night, as the C’s erased a halftime deficit to get the win. Meanwhile, Theis hasn’t been a positive since the Cleveland blowout four games ago.
Coming Up Next
The Pistons aren’t very good, but they’re just a single game under .500 with Blake Griffin in the lineup. He won't be out there Friday night.
With or without Griffin, Derrick Rose is looking to shoot. Andre Drummond can turn in a 20-20 game at a moment’s notice. The Pistons may not be a credible Eastern Conference threat, but they beat the Rockets last weekend, and they’re turned back the competitive Pacers three times already.
Smart is said to be improving after a recent run of poor health, and while the future of Hayward’s foot injury rests on an MRI and the swingman’s ability to deal with the pain, it helps to have two games against below-average opposition (Detroit and Charlotte) followed by a couple of days off before a Christmas Day clash with Toronto.