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Gordon Hayward and Boston start 2019 right and 9 other takeaways from Celtics/Timberwolves

Hayward scored 35 to cap a big effort that showed off Boston’s depth

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Boston Celtics Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

1. Continuing a trend that dates back to last season, Terry Rozier was excellent as a starter. He was active and engaged on both ends of the floor and looked comfortable. His splits as a starter vs a reserve tell the story of that comfort level. You expect the counting stats (points, rebounds assists) to all be up, and they are, but his percentages also jump by a big amount. He shoots 40 percent from the field overall and from behind the arc as a starter. As reserve, those percentages drop to 37 and 35 percent respectively. His offensive and defensive ratings also improve as a starter.

The starting point guard job in Boston is Kyrie Irving’s for as long as Irving is healthy and wants it. With Rozier firmly establishing he’s better as a starter than a reserve, it raises the question of Danny Ainge looking at a trade before Rozier could walk for nothing as a restricted free agent this summer.

2. We should all know how important Al Horford is to the Celtics by now. There aren’t many true centers who will grab a rebound, bring the ball up the floor and then find a cutter on the backdoor play for a dunk. Horford and Nikola Jokic are about the whole of that list.

3. In addition to his scoring and playmaking on offense, Horford was a big part shutting down Karl-Anthony Towns early in the game. Towns was just 2-of-9 from the floor for four points in the first half. Horford repeatedly stoned him in the post or denied him the ball entirely. Towns had a big second half, but a lot of that came when the Celtics were nursing a comfortable lead.

4. With Aron Baynes out, the depth behind Horford has been tested. Against the Wolves, Brad Stevens went to Guerschon Yabusele as the first big off the bench. Yabusele gave Boston some nice energy and made a couple of good moves in the post to get buckets. Daniel Theis came in as the second big and played one of his more effective games in the last week or two. Overall, it was a good night for the Boston bigs.

5. Minnesota’s depth was lacking with Jeff Teague, Robert Covington and Derrick Rose out and it showed in a big way, as the Celtics reserves won the scoring battle by a 62-18 margin. Gordon Hayward was obviously the main catalyst there, but Jaylen Brown made some plays too. Brown’s put together a string of strong games, despite his right (shooting) hand hurting. He scored 10 points in this one and showed great confidence to let this three-pointer fly as the trail man in transition:

6. OK...on to Hayward. It was a dominant night for him. He scored 35 points off the bench on 14-18 shooting. He’s probably sad that this was Boston’s last game against Minnesota this year, as he’s scored 35 and 30 points against the Wolves this season. But again, beyond the numbers, it was good to see how comfortable and confident Hayward looked on the floor.

7. Two plays stood out for Hayward as having confidence. On this play, he drives to the rim without hesitation and hangs for the kiss off the glass. Bonus: Look at Rozier seal off Towns, so he can’t help at the basket!

Then on the very next play, the Celtics ran the exact same set. Rozier with the seal again! This time Hayward finishes with a dunk, because he knows the help was going to come a touch quicker this time around:

8. Everyone knows about Marcus Smart’s defense by know. He’s having a Defensive Player of the Year type of season. But sometimes that defense overshadows just how improved Smart is a playmaker. When he came in the league, running a simple pick and roll was a mess. In Year 5, Smart has become one of Boston’s best playmakers. He had eight assists in this game, but none were prettier than this find to Horford for the pick and pop jumper:

9. For the second straight game, the Celtics third quarter defense was a mess. After a 46-point disaster against San Antonio, Boston allowed Minnesota to score 39 in the third. This time the fall-off coincided with Smart leaving the game due to a strained right shoulder. He left with 10:38 to play in the third and Minnesota would go on to shoot 16-of-23 in the quarter. Smart’s ball pressure against the Minnesota ballhandlers had been having a huge impact. Without him on the floor, everything was easy for the Wolves.

10. The shoulder strain looked really bad for Smart. He had the dead arm going on and had to return to the locker room. But it would take cutting his arm off to keep him out of the game, and maybe not even then. Smart returned and immediately the defense picked things back up and closed out the wire-to-wire win.

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