“You look at the regular season, you have a couple of those games, where you could say it’s playoff intensity but, when you have seven in a row, that’s something that you can’t really express or prepare for,” said the rookie forward. “It was actually enlightening to see how hard it is to not only win one game but also four games against another talented team.
“It was definitely a learning moment, a growing moment, not only for myself, but hopefully the guys around me. It’s definitely given us the courage to fight through adversity and continue to play basketball and the game that we love and we love to be around each other.”
As learning moments go, Game 1 (Tuesday, 6:30 p.m.) of the Eastern Conference finals against Miami promises to be another step up the curve. The Heat, after sweeping Indiana in the first round, beat Milwaukee in five games in round two. They’ve lost one playoff game, and are the hottest team in the field.
“Super-well coached, organized on both ends, their offensive cutting and play off catch-and-shoot and dribble handoffs is elite,” said Brad Stevens. “They’ve got good pick-and-roll players, they can play through their five as the hub of the offense whether it’s (Bam) Adebayo or (Kelly) Olynyk, or they can play through their multiple ball-handlers, (Goran) Dragic, (Jimmy) Butler, their shooters space the floor out for all those guys.
“On the other end, I just think they defend to win,” said the Celtics coach. “They’re smart, they’re tough, they’re in the right spots, they know where the threats are, and they don’t take a possession off. So I think they’ve played as well as anybody in the last two months. It’s not a surprise that they’ve played as well as they have in the playoffs because they’ve looked great the entire time. They’ve got a great way about them.”
And in light of their most recent game against the Celtics — a 112-106 win over the C’s on Aug. 5 —the Heat, with their zone coverage and deep shooting, are a nasty two-way team.
Gordon Hayward’s return near
Gordon Hayward continues to rehab his right ankle and shoot on the side and do light drills. He’s expected to rejoin the team at some point during the conference finals, though when is unclear.
“Since I’ve seen him last, it’s good progress, but I haven’t seen him for two-and-a-half, three weeks,” said Stevens. “Other than that, I know he feels better. He’s worked hard to get to where he is, and I think he’ll play at some point in this series. As far as predicting a timeline, I have no idea. But I feel like he’s made good progress and will play eventually.
“He did a couple of non-contact, very light drills. He’s out there doing individual work right now, but none of the stuff with any groups.”
Brown lauds team’s change leadership
The Celtics’ implementation of a racial justice initiative that will invest $25 million over 10 years in a series of initiatives in Boston includes input from players, including Jaylen Brown.
The Celtics guard is a young rising star in the players association and its social activism, and is impressed with his team’s upcoming investment.
“I think it’s a great step. That’s a great monetary commitment,” he said, adding of the initiative’s intended impact, “I’m more looking forward to the lifestyle and momentum to be continued over time. I think just having the right balance of long-term and short-term change, a lot of times the response is, ‘Change happens over time. It takes this amount of years.’ I think there’s some things in our wheelhouse that can be changed right now.
“Part of that is just pushing some things forward. One thing I would like to see in Boston is the George Floyd bill enacted,” he said. “Having conversations about police, qualified immunity, and things like that, some things just need to be held accountable. And hopefully Boston can be a place where a tone is set and it can be transpired in other places and other cities that need it most. And I think Boston is doing a good job of moving in the right direction, but there are definitely some things that need to be changed. It’s some companies, some organizations that need to be diversified, some opportunities that people of color can have that aren’t necessarily getting those chances, and just continue to move in the right direction.
“I’m proud to be a part of the Celtics organization. I’m proud to have an ownership group, or a leadership group, that’s willing to take these steps because they recognize that we need to live in a better more forward progressing world, and I’m happy that they asked my input as a 23-year-old coming from disadvantaged communities and having a certain perspective being here in Boston, growing up in Atlanta and going to school in California-Berkeley. I’m just happy that the mindsets are shifting and hopefully we can continue this and make this a long-term commitment as well as a short-term.”
Williams: Thanks, Jayson
For all of his wrestling to get to a Kemba Walker bounce pass late in Game 7, Grant Williams was able to save the possession by drawing a foul. Then he missed two free throws, before Jayson Tatum saved it again by jumping over the pack to rebound the second miss.
Williams now gives thanks for Tatum.
“When it came to the free throws, I was actually super confident going to the line — eh, it’s just two free throws, and then when I hit back rim, I was like oh, that’s just a back rim,” said Williams. “It was a good shot, looked good, felt good, and then I shot the next one to the same spot and I was like, oh my goodness. I don’t ever remember a time I missed clutch free throws like that, so it was definitely a laughing moment for me when JT got the rebound. I was like thank you JT for saving my career here in Boston. I’m happy we ended up pulling it out in the end.”