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The Return Of Gordon Hayward Went Even Better Than Expected As The Celtics Continue To Roll

I'm no dummy, I know the Cavs are essentially a G-League basketball team. That nobody should be preparing the parade because the Celtics came out and wiped the Garden floor with that disaster of a roster. But here's the thing, if all the other Eastern Conference contenders get to feel good about their team after playing a team like the Cavs, then so can we. Seeing as how I just lived through a team that couldn't beat bad teams, even at home, I will not thumb my nose at wins like this or take them for granted. Good teams take care of business against bad opponents, and at 11-1 against teams under .500 that's exactly what the Celtics have done. You look at the Pacers (12-5) and the Sixers (12-4) against bad teams and then you look at how close the East standings are right now, that's basically the difference. MIL/BOS/MIA? Elite against the bad teams and that's why they are sitting in the top 3. 

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But this night was more about keeping the winning streak alive and beating a bad team. It was the long awaited return of Gordon Hayward. There were so many questions leading into this game, how aggressive would he still be after suffering another injury, how would the rotations work, how would the young wings respond to another scorer being on the floor, I could go on and on. Well I am happy to report that the early returns on these questions could not be better. Yes, playing the Cavs had about 85% to do with what we saw, but there's no denying that this team picked right up from where they were 7 game into the season when Hayward got hurt. We'll know more after this IND/PHI back to back later this week, but before we get to that we first have to relive what was a very enjoyable 48 minutes of basketball.

The Good

- You may think given who came back that we'd be starting the night with Gordon Hayward. Not so fast my friend. I'm starting with Jaylen Brown.

It became clear about 5 seconds into this game that the Cavs wings had NO SHOT defending Jaylen Brown. Didn't matter what they tried they were too slow, too weak, and not nearly talented enough to contain a man that is playing on an All Star mission this season. Time after time we saw Jaylen blow right past his man for an easy finish at the rim, he set the tone early with 9 first quarter points, and we're seeing a version of Jaylen that is becoming a more complete player with each game. He was good defensively, especially protecting the rim, his handle is no longer a weakness, and of his 15 FGA everything was either at the rim or behind the arc for the most part. I would say Jaylen has developed exactly how all of us were hoping he would, and he's only going to get better, that's the scary part.

But Jaylen's big night didn't just happen on the floor, of course we have to mention his post game comments too

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This right here is why I will always fuck with Jaylen Brown. He gets it. He clearly embraces Celtics Twitter and for the record basketball bullying clearly works. It got Simmons to take and make a three and it now got Grant to make his first three. As expected the usual Sixers fans that are always in my mentions spent hours crying about this comment last night which makes me love it even more. Wonder why they are so defensive about it.

- But OK, now we can talk about Gordon. His final stat line wasn't all that crazy, a solid 14/5/4 on 7-10 shooting in 26 minutes but given that he missed a month I'd say he looked pretty damn good

It was very apparent right from the jump how much a healthy Hayward can help this team whether it's his legit midrange scoring ability or my personal favorite being his playmaking ability. I saw a player with zero hesitation, someone who didn't avoid contact which was great to see, and a guy who had the same sort of mentality that we saw to start the year when he was this roster's best player. 

It was even interesting to see how Brad staggered Hayward's minutes, and while the Hayward/Kanter/Wanamaker/Tatum/Semi lineup was a big time disaster in this game, I think this is where Brad is going to go for the most part. I think we see Tatum/Hayward paired together and Jaylen/Kemba paired together when playing with the bench units and I love the idea of having another playmaker on the floor to take the pressure off Tatum. If you remember, before the injury Hayward was around a 22% usage player, and last night he came in at 21.4%. So basically all that worrying about roles and usage and all that bullshit with Hayward back in the fold doesn't appear to be a problem.

- I am so happy for Grant. 

- Brad Stevens said after the game that if you want to be special, just watch Kemba. Here he was, ready to pack it in for the night but the Celts did what the Celts often do and refused to blow a team out so Kemba had to come back in. We then got 90 seconds of three straight Kemba threes to put this game away and on a night where I wouldn't even say he was the focus point of the offense you look down and he finishes with 22/7 on over 50% shooting and 5 3PM

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It's been amazing to see how Kemba has embraced this role so far this season as a guy who they desperately need to play well if they want to win, but someone who doesn't force things. Remember when the haters and losers said he was only good in CHA because he took every shot? Poor pathetic bastards. Kemba has clearly shown that he cares about his teammates getting theirs, and when they need someone to step up and close the door, there he is. He was a team high +32, didn't really turn the ball over and took fewer shots than both the Jays while still making a gigantic impact. 

I cannot stress how huge this is for the development of this team. We're getting All Star seasons from the young wings and All Star production from the point guard spot and nobody is playing me first basketball. Fantastic.

- Gotta love leading the whole way, getting up by as much as 29, never being tied or having a lead change at any point in the game. That's the sort of wire to wire performance that my heart needed.

- It's starting to look like Jayson Tatum may be figuring out his shooting woes. First from three after going 4-6, but also at the rim where we saw him make multiple layups. I'm not kidding it really happened. 

Here's Jayson's last 5 games from three:

BKN: 50%, 4 3PM

NYK: 45.5%, 5 3PM

MIA: 16%, 2 3PM

DEN: 50%, 4 3PM

CLE: 66%, 4 3PM

So as you can see, outside of that MIA debacle (which they won), Tatum has been much, much better from behind the arc. He's creeping back up to the high 30s which will be important for this team offensively if he can get back to being a reliable outside shooter, and frankly you knew water would find its level. What I continue to be impressed with though is Tatum's commitment to the glass. Another 11 rebounds in this game, I feel like we haven't see Tatum rebound like this at any point in his career. That makes sense considering he has career highs in DREB% (18.0) OREB% (3.8) and TREB% (11.0). Given how important rebounding from the wing position is with how this roster is constructed, that's been a pleasant surprise.

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- Another very solid 23 minutes for Semi. He made his only three, he had 4 steals and honestly that's all I want from him. Play good defense and make your occasional open three. He's done that time and time again over the last month or so and I'm glad Brad is giving him minutes because he's earning more time with each game.

- People that talk about the Celtics need for big man help expose themselves for clearly not paying attention. You want to give up someone like Hayward for a big money center? Why? Just look at what Daniel Theis is doing

Are they perfect at this position? Of course not. But they are good enough and certainly not at the point where they need to trade a major rotation piece to bring in another center. Put some respect on what Daniel Theis is doing because he's been MORE than solid in this role so far.

- It's not often we see a Celtics team shoot 57/55% with 15 3PM and I don't care if this came against the Cavs. I am going to enjoy a rare offensive night like this and there's nothing you can do about it. 

The Bad

- Now of course it wasn't all good. For example getting to the FT line only 8 times as a team isn't exactly ideal, and if the Cavs didn't suck ass at FTs maybe this is a closer game and then who knows what happens. The Celts only took 27 3PM so it wasn't like they were just taking nothing but threes, but they sure as shit weren't drawing fouls. Just 4 combined FTA for Tatum/Jaylen/Kemba/Hayward, that number has to be way higher.

- It was a weird Kanter night. On one end he did what we expect with 7 points and 4 rebounds in 17 minutes, but on the other end he didn't put up much resistance on the defensive end. This wasn't his usual game where he stinks out loud at  justdefending the P&R either, he was simply…..bad all around. This was a night where not having Robert to fill in hurt the Celts because normally Brad makes the switch before Kanter starts to really hurt them on that end, but there was pretty much negative rim protection from Kanter which isn't exactly great, but also isn't a surprise.

- I hate to say it because he was so good for over a month, but Brad Wanamaker might be coming back down to earth offensively. Just 2 points on 1-6 shooting off the bench, it's a good thing we may not have to rely on him so much moving forward because maybe he's a little tired or something.

The Ugly

- Well this is easy. We'll start with the offensive rebounding situation. Allowing 18 OREB is not going to fly, and as expected it was Tristan Thompson that did most of the damage. What the hell is it about Thompson that makes him such a nightmare for this team? He's being doing shit like this for years and he had more OREB (8) than the entire Celtics roster combined. I mean box out for me one time, I don't care who it is.

- Too many turnovers. Sloppy play against bad teams usually comes back to bite you so the Celts were a bit lucky here. I hate when they play careless and their 18 TOs were pretty careless. Tatum with 4, Jaylen with 3, it's just lazy basketball that cannot happen later this week against actual good teams. 

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- Shame on them for making Kemba come back in and save this game. The Celts had a prime opportunity to earn their starters some free rest and they couldn't help themselves. They just had to make this a "game" again and that was annoying.

So here we sit. 17-5, 10-0 at home and winner of 4 straight. Things are good, and now that the roster is back to being healthy for the most part it's time for the Celtics to pass another big time early season test. This will be the first time we see IND this season and they are no joke at home, and then Thursday against PHI is huge. I don't care if it's early December, these H2H matchup against teams that are close to you in the standings matter. This team already lost to PHI and cannot afford to go down 0-2 H2H against them. Beating CLE is fun because it was stress free, but it's time to get serious and show that if this team is going to be for real, they can beat teams with actual talent in big spots.