Here are five thoughts on the Celtics’ opening weekend of seeding games in Orlando.
▪ There have been plenty of story lines over the first two games. Kemba Walker’s minutes restriction that may have cost the Celtics one game and nearly another. Jayson Tatum’s miserable shooting night that was followed up by an All-Star-level performance. And Jaylen Brown’s scorching fourth quarter against the Blazers, when he went 6 for 6 from the field and 4 for 4 on 3-pointers.
Throughout these highs and lows, though, Gordon Hayward has been Boston’s steady constant. In two games in Orlando, Hayward is averaging 19.5 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 5 assists. He is shooting 50 percent from the field and the 3-point line, and the Celtics have outscored opponents by 7.9 points per 100 possessions with him on the court.
Hayward has looked so comfortable hunting mismatches and finding his spots for midrange jumpers. When he spies a good matchup, then takes a few dribbles toward midcourt before turning and revving up, it is ending well. There isn’t a team in the NBA with a better fourth option.
▪ The win over the Blazers saved the Celtics from being in real danger of falling into the No. 4 spot in the Eastern Conference. But it’s tough to say whether that would be such an awful thing.
Boston certainly would like to avoid the 76ers in the opening round, and Philadelphia is now in the No. 6 spot, lined up to face the Celtics, who are third. If Boston does slide to fifth and the Pacers are No. 4, it wouldn’t be all bad. Indiana All-Star Domantas Sabonis is out indefinitely with a foot injury, and the Celtics have had success against the Pacers.
The obvious downside would be a likely second-round duel with the top-seeded Bucks. But I think there’s a chance the Raptors are the tougher matchup for the Celtics. Also, if Boston does make a run to the Finals, it will likely need to beat both the Bucks and Raptors anyway. Does the order matter all that much?
One thing that does seem clear is that Boston will not be catching Toronto for the No. 2 spot. The Raptors lead the Celtics by four games with just six left.
If the Celtics beat the Heat Tuesday, that would basically lock them into the No. 3 slot. As much as Brad Stevens says he doesn’t pay attention to seeding, that probably would give him some peace of mind and allow him to rest his top players more frequently over the next 10 days.
▪ Let’s also take a moment and thank the Nets for defeating the Wizards Sunday, all but eliminating the chance of having an Eastern Conference 8/9 play-in series that no one wants to see. Based on the rosters, they’re fielding in Orlando, the Wizards and Nets don’t even want to see it.
Anyway, Washington needs to be within four games of the No. 8 spot when the seeding games end, and it’s currently seven games out with just six remaining.
▪ There was an unusual backcourt violation in Sunday’s win over Portland that nearly hurt the Celtics. With 22 seconds left and Boston clinging to a 125-122 lead, Tatum brought the ball up the left sideline. As he reached midcourt he jumped and fired a crosscourt pass toward Hayward, whose foot was on the midcourt line when he touched the ball. The Celtics were whistled for the violation because it was determined that the ball had already crossed midcourt before Hayward touched it. This was referee Marc Davis’s explanation:
“When a ball goes from frontcourt to backcourt status while in control of the team, that is a backcourt violation, the definition of it,” he said. “Jayson Tatum threw the pass from the backcourt. His momentum caused the ball to break the plane of the midcourt line, thus making it frontcourt status, and then when Gordon Hayward received the pass, his back foot was in the backcourt, this changing it from frontcourt status to backcourt status.”
The play was not reviewable and the Celtics could not challenge it, but video reviews show that the officials made the proper call based on that rule. Fortunately for the Celtics, it did not matter in the end.
▪ Jaylen Brown had some interesting comments Sunday regarding kneeling for the national anthem. Most players have emphasized that their actions have nothing to do with the flag or the anthem, but that it is an important and visible way to silently protest against police brutality and systemic racism.
Brown actually shifted his focus to the anthem itself, which was written as a poem by Francis Scott Key in 1814 before becoming the national anthem more than 100 years later. Key, a lawyer and author from Maryland, was a slave owner.
“When we talk about the national anthem, we don’t talk a lot about the third verse that was written, which addressed slavery and mentions there’s no hope for a hireling and slave but the gloom of the grave,” Brown said.
“So racism is so deeply embedded in our country that people don’t even flinch at the idea. It kind of is what it is. It’s not [about] the protests. It’s not the police officers, police brutality. It is — all that’s important, but it’s also the framework of systemic oppression, and that starts with the national anthem.”