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Brad Stevens seeks preseason 'high motor' in Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward

Irving sees teammates play 'beautiful' basketball

NBA: Preseason-Charlotte Hornets at Boston Celtics Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

BOSTON -- Take one look at the stat sheet from Monday night's preseason opener against the Charlotte Hornets, and the numbers for Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward are not overwhelming.

Irving was 4-for-11, 1-of-3 from beyond the arc, with four rebounds, three assists and two steals. Hayward was 2-for-6 with five rebounds in Boston's 94-82 win over the Hornets.

But for Stevens, it's all about getting a feel for each other in a now-shortened four-game preseason. That's why there was so much emphasis in their first game together about making that extra pass. That's something that's likely going to continue in two games against the Sixers and one more against Charlotte before the season opener in Cleveland on Oct. 17.

In other words, there no such thing as too much ball movement - for now.

“Not on October 2nd, there’s not," Stevens said. "I think that you’re trying to build a sharing mindset, a high-motor mindset, on both ends of the floor. When you play defense, you play defense hard as a team. You cover for one another. And when you play offense, you play hard as a team. And so hopefully we’ll continue to build that. So far, they’ve really tried. It’s just a matter of, I think, getting a little bit crisper.”

As for the 15-of-38 shooting from his starters (Irving, Hayward, Al Horford, Jaylen Brown, Aron Baynes), Stevens certainly didn't sound overly concerned.

“I don’t really care about the shooting," Stevens added. "I just care about the shots we’re getting. And we got some great looks in the first half, especially. I mean, I used to always – even in college – in your first exhibition game you’re ready for there to be some real bricks early because everybody’s so excited to be out there, playing against somebody else. So that’s nothing new. And, you know, I thought that we got pretty decent looks. But I’m really encouraged by the other end of the floor because I think this team can be pretty good on that end.”

Baynes had the best statistical night of any of the starters, hitting 5-of-8, collecting five rebounds, dishing three assists and playing exactly the kind of physical game the Celtics have been lacking. He even got in between Irving and Dwight Howard when the two got in each other's faces in the first half after a loose ball.

“If you look at statistically, when he challenges shots vertically at the rim he’s really, really good," Stevens said. "He’s hard to score on. He’s a big strong guy now, and he is very capable shooting the ball as well. So his ability to knock down 15 to 17-footers off of those little pick-and-pops I thought was good for us, especially in that first 24 minutes when we were struggling for the ball to go in the basket.”

Stevens is leaning on Baynes as the team waits for the Marcus Morris court matter to resolve in Arizona.

Irving sounded like he couldn't have been happier to get the first preseason game out of the way.

"It's a whole new level," Irving told NBC Boston's Abby Chin after the game. "Rusty as hell."

Later, Irving told reporters he couldn't have been happier to have gotten the first game under his belt.

“It was awesome. It was beautiful to be a part of, beautiful to watch," Irving said. "Purposeful cuts, understanding what we are trying to do offensively and defensively which is executing at a high level.”

Early in the first quarter, on an in-bounds play, Irving looked one way and then found an open Hayward under the basket for a perfectly-executed in-bounds score - something to store away for the regular season.

"We have a lot of space, lot of guys that can make plays," Hayward said. "Felt like we got some really good looks there and once we get clicking we’ll be even better.”

“I don’t know if there is such thing as that. I think that Brad gives us enough freedom individually and as a group to make plays and be who we are. Even when we came in at halftime he was saying just shoot the shots that are open. Sometimes we even got into a span of making the extra, extra pass and when you’re with a group like that you know you’re playing with some great guys. Just staying aggressive, just making sure we see where the openings are and where the opportunities are on the weak side.

"Second unit played very inspiring basketball. I told them that they inspire me on the bench because first unit, obviously we have some talented guys out there and we like to create space. We have individual talents that we like to utilize and the second unit did a great job moving the space. It will take some time for the first unit to get our legs under us, but it was definitely awesome to be a part of to see those guys playing inspiring basketball.”

Game 2 of the four-preseason is Friday night in Philadelphia before the team returns home next Monday to host the Sixers.

“Felt good. Felt good to be in front of the fans with my teammates out there," Hayward added. "I think we have a lot to work on, but I think it was a good start for us.”

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