Celtics' pick-your-poison brand of basketball even more potent with Gordon Hayward's return


TORONTO -- With so many wing-centric players in the regular rotation for Boston, there’s a school of thought that the Celtics have too many.

And then there are games like the one we saw on Christmas where all those wings showed once again how they have collectively figured out how to soar to heights few envisioned for them, with such seamlessness. 

Boston welcomed back a key member of its wing-playing flock in Gordon Hayward whose play and the Celtics' overall, seemingly didn’t miss a beat as they reverted back to their pick-your-poison brand of basketball in defeating the Toronto Raptors, 118-102.

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The Raptors (21-10) opened the game with a 10-0 run, only for the Celtics to call a time-out and reel off nine straight points before eventually taking the lead in the first quarter and never looking back.

Hayward, who missed the last three games (foot) and 13 of the previous 16 (broken bone, left hand) before the foot ailment, had 14 points on an efficient 6-for-9 shooting game to go with five rebounds, six assists, two steals and a blocked shot. 

"It's good to be back out there," Hayward said. "Blessed to be able to play on Christmas; it was fun."

It was Hayward delivering the kind of balanced performance that the Celtics needed to strengthen their position as one of the top teams in the East this season. 

As much as the Celtics benefit from Hayward’s play, his presence is also impactful for Boston. 

“I think what it allows you to do is it allows you to keep two of those guys on the court at one time,” said head coach Brad Stevens. “When we subbed out Gordon and Kemba (Walker), you are able to keep Jaylen (Brown) and Jayson (Tatum) on the court or vice versa, whatever, some combination of that. That will only get better when (Marcus) Smart gets back.”

Indeed, Hayward’s return to the lineup only enhances the pick-your-poison dynamic that the Celtics put a number of teams in, on a game-in, game-out basis. 

“That’s what we want. We want to have guys attacking from different spots on the floor,” Hayward said. “It makes us hard to guard.”

Kemba Walker, who had 22 points, explained that what folks see when the Celtics are clicking the way they were on Christmas wasn’t all that complicated. 

“Making the right plays; that’s all we do,” Walker said. “And whenever guys are getting their opportunities, just knocking shots down.”

Jaylen Brown, who led all scorers with 30 points, said the approach he and the rest of Boston’s Big Four - himself, Walker, Tatum and Hayward - varies from one game to the next. 

“Being aggressive, letting the game dictate how it’s going to go down, things like that,” Brown said. “Just be ready; certain nights guys have it rolling. Just continue to play and continue to gain Brad’s trust and he continues to let us do that.”

With more than a third of the season complete, the wild card in Boston’s Big Four has been Hayward who has missed more games due to injuries this year than the other three combined. 

But as we saw on Christmas and what we’ve seen most of this season when healthy, Hayward’s return from an injury doesn’t rock the boat. 

If anything it clears the way for smoother sailing for a Boston team that continues to play pick-your-poison basketball and by doing so, are slowly but surely killing their opponents’ chances at victory. 

“We have a bunch of guys that are capable of going off on any given night,” said Tatum who had a near double-double of 11 points and nine rebounds with six assists on Christmas, just three days after scoring a career-high 39 points against Charlotte. “So, that makes us pretty unique in that way.”

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Cavaliers, which tips off Friday at 3:30 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Mike and Tommy have the call at 4 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.

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