When Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving sat together for their introductory news conference two years ago, they glowed as they talked about what they could be capable of as Celtics teammates.
Then Hayward missed his first season because of an ankle injury, and last year he and Irving were never able to get in lockstep. A pairing that some believed would last for years fizzled before it produced anything noteworthy.
Now Hayward, a former All-Star, has a new chance with another All-Star point guard, Kemba Walker. And the two have been working hard to develop the chemistry that Hayward and Irving could never quite create.
“It’s repetition,” Hayward said after Friday’s practice. “Kind of figuring out exactly where we’re going to be out on the court, where he likes to be at, where he likes to get the ball.
“And that goes for everybody, too, with the offense that we’re running. It’s pretty versatile. Guys can be in different spots. So some of it is just a timing thing that we’re working on, making sure our timings are right, our cuts are right, our spacing is good, giving everybody a chance to be able to make plays.”
Hayward was drafted by the Jazz in 2010 and Walker was taken by Charlotte a year later, after his Connecticut team toppled Butler, Hayward’s former team, in the NCAA title game. When Hayward was a restricted free agent in 2014, he signed an offer sheer with the Hornets and was on the verge of joining Walker until the Jazz matched the offer and kept him.
“All those things add up,” Hayward said. “I’ve been watching him in the league for a while, so it’s really exciting to be able to play with him.”
The Celtics will get an early look at whether their size deficiencies become a hindrance when they face the 76ers in the season opener Wednesday. All five of Philadelphia’s starters are 6 feet, 5 inches or taller, and Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and Al Horford all stand above 6-9.
“They’re excellent, they’re big, they’re long,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “Obviously [Tobias] Harris has played a lot at the four recently, now he’s playing at the three. Al has played a lot at the five, now he’s playing at the four.
“They have a big, long team and versatile guys. The point guards are obviously 6-9 and 6-7 each, so it’s a really challenging group to play against.”
Although Simmons is big, he is a point guard. And Horford has good size, but he generally plays well below the rim. The 7-foot Embiid, meanwhile, is a menace inside. Last season the Celtics were able to deploy Horford and the burly Aron Baynes, among others, on him.
“They have a ton of team length,” Stevens said. “Who matches up with Embiid? Everybody that wears green has a chance to get that call at any time. There’s no perfect answer, but we’re going to have to play really hard and make it as tough as possible.”
Over the course of the season, the Celtics might be able to overcome their lack of size because most teams do not really operate in the post anymore anyway. The 76ers, however, are likely an exception.
“They obviously have a few guys that are really good at it,” Stevens said.
Setback for Williams
Celtics forward Robert Williams had a bit of a setback as he goes through concussion protocol and is back at the first step of the process, Stevens said. Williams left Tuesday’s preseason game against the Cavaliers after being hit in the head.
He was seen on the treadmill when Friday’s practice was opened to the media.
“He didn’t feel great after yesterday so they dialed him back, so he’s back to day one again,” Stevens said. “We’ll see how he feels after today.”
Rookie wing Romeo Langford, who sprained his knee during Boston’s win over the Cavaliers Sunday and sat out the rematch Tuesday, took part in some of the noncontact portions of Friday’s practice.
“Moving pretty well,” Stevens said. “He looks pretty good. We hope for at least a full practice by Monday.”
Just win, Jayson
Groups of Celtics have been taking part in shooting contests after most practices this season. But so far the results have always been the same.
“I just know I ain’t lost,” forward Jayson Tatum said. “I don’t plan on losing.”