CLEVELAND — Of all the hoops he made during a career night, Gordon Hayward saved the Celtics with a rebound. He soared in to capture a Kemba Walker miss and then score a layup with 22.8 seconds left Tuesday to seal the Celtics’ 119-113 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers at Rocket MortgageFieldHouse.
The Celtics led most of the night before a 9-0 Cleveland run sliced the Boston lead to 113-110 with 2:10 left.
After the teams traded 3-pointers, the Celtics were able to force a Kevin Love miss and Walker won a jump ball over counterpart Collin Sexton, setting up Hayward’s clinching bucket.
Hayward was brilliant, scoring 39 points on 17-for-20 field goals along with 7 rebounds and 8 assists. He was 16 for 16 on 2-point attempts. Hayward scored 39 earlier in his career with Utah.
Walker added 25 points, including six 3-pointers as the Celtics took the lead in the opening quarter and wouldn’t trail again. The rebuilding Cavaliers kept pushing, using 3-point shooting and Tristan Thompson rebounding (13 in all) to make a late rally. But Hayward was too much, helping the Celtics to their fifth consecutive win.
Carsen Edwards, returning to the arena where he hit eight 3-pointers in 8:46 in the preseason, turned in his best game of his short career, scoring 13 points in 15 minutes with three 3-pointers.
With Jaylen Brown (illness) and Enes Kanter (knee) still out, the Celtics rode their bench, using Robert Williams, Brad Wanamaker and Edwards for long stretches.
Here are some other observations as the Celtics prepapre for Walker’s return to Charlotte on Thursday:
■ Hayward scored at will in the opening period, hitting all seven shots on an array of floaters and short jumpers. It was on the same side of the floor where he sustained his devastating leg injury two years ago. Hayward looks quite comfortable in the offense, and unlike last year, isn’t trying to do too much, especially athletically.
Hayward is scoring in the spots where he likes – middle of the key – and with the short jumper he prefers. Hayward isn’t trying to attack the rim as much, but instead is using his craftiness to score at the rim.
■ It’s getting to the point where Marcus Smart can now be considered a 3-point threat. He has always taken long-range shots eagerly, but now he’s taking them with supreme confidence. He entered the Cavaliers game 9 for his past 22 from the 3-point line and he canned two more Tuesday (in six attempts). Smart may never be a 40-plus percent 3-point shooter but he’s turning himself into a respectable one.
■ Brad Stevens continues to experiment with lineups. He inserted rookies Javonte Green and Grant Williams to join Robert Williams in the second unit in a first-quarter stint. It was the earliest Green had played in his brief NBA career. It seems as if Stevens is trying to determine when he can use Green’s athleticism and defensive skills.
■ The Celtics, as usual, had trouble with Thompson on the boards. The Boston nemesis finished with eight rebounds in 16 first-half minutes along with 9 points. Stevens was concerned about getting pounded on the boards with Thompson and Love in the lineup. The Celtics were respectable in the first half (25-23 Cavaliers) with Jayson Tatum pulling down six rebounds. At game’s end, the Celtics won the battle of the boards, 45-44.
■ Love didn’t look quite engaged in his 15 first-half minutes, scoring 5 points with two rebounds on 2-for-5 shooting. He has three more years after this season on his contract extension and it’s hard to envision Love spending that span in Cleveland. He seems out of place among the Cavaliers’ youth movement and looked a few steps slow against the Celtics’ defense.