After Gordon Hayward exited Saturday’s game with a freak hand collision — which resembled the randomness of Aron Baynes breaking his hand catching a pass last year — reinforcements arrived.
Enes Kanter returns from his knee injury tonight and the Celtics recalled Romeo Langford from his one-game stint in Maine, two players absent from Boston’s current seven-game win streak. Both losses weren’t felt at two deep positions, but they now arrive in the shadow of Hayward’s absence. They could fill his most pressing contribution, secondary playmaking, which helped Boston emerge as a top-tier offense.
“When (Hayward) plays the way he’s been playing, everyone notices the stats,” Brad Stevens said on Monday. “It’s the simple reads and passes that we have to make up for when he’s not here.”
Stevens and the Celtics await news from Hayward’s appointment with a hand specialist on Monday. With him likely facing at least several weeks off, the Celtics lost one of their foremost secondary ball-handlers away from Kemba Walker. While Walker faced blitzes and extra pressure on the ball, Hayward, Jayson Tatum and Marcus Smart have emerged for over two minutes of ball time.
Hayward manned 24% of Boston’s pick-and-roll possessions, nearly replicating Walker’s production with 1.12 points per possession (Walker: 1.16 PPP on 44% of possessions). Tatum only produced 0.75, running the third most behind them.
Walker and Hayward helped feed each other while Walker flushed 44% of his catch-and-shoot threes, Hayward drained 52%. Getting Walker off the ball played a pivotal role in Boston amassing 110 points per 100 possessions (5th in the NBA).
Brown already matched Hayward’s production (1.55 PPP) in the fast break, which has factored heavily into Boston’s offensive success. The Celtics rank third in transition PPP and will continue to thrive in that area. Integrating Kanter poses a defensive challenge for a team hitting its stride on that end and converting it to offense on the run. But his passing can help the half-court offense.
Both Kanter and Langford yield skills to help Boston in the half-court, but will alter how the team plays during their minutes. Kanter plays the high and low post, making passes out of double-teams and second-level ones like what Stevens mentioned.
Kanter twice assisted Hayward on Opening Night in the pick-and-roll, handing Hayward the ball on give-and-goes while he rolled and Hayward converted a pair of floaters. Tatum, Smart and Brown face similar challenges in this regard, converting on in-between makes like Hayward did (52% on 50 shots) when the defense dropped back. They’ve all flashed second-level passing to bigs and shooters, but playmaking also requires scoring on your own.
As for Langford, the mystery surrounding him could clear tonight. Stevens said he’ll join the Celtics all week, likely clearing the way for his first minutes as a Celtic. He dropped 27 points with Maine on Saturday, playing at the same time as Boston did. As the Hayward news emerged and the buzzer sounded on the win in San Antonio, viewers flocked to watch Langford for the first time.
While his shot in no way reflects Hayward’s, Boston tweaked it with ping-pong paddles in-between injuries to his groin and knee. His G-League breakout revealed the layers of his game that could help with Hayward out. In spite of his developing shot, Langford has displayed pick-and-roll prowess with a strong handle and a mid-range pull-up game.
The Celtics funneled over 10 minutes to Javonte Green each of the last two nights and Semi Ojeleye’s floor time has decreased. Since they’re both off-ball players anyway, it stands to reason that Stevens would see what he has in Langford in the short-term.