A healthy Gordon Hayward still working out the kinks

A healthy Gordon Hayward still working out the kinks

Terry Rozier scores 17 points in preseason loss

Terry Rozier scored 17 points on 7-for-17 shooting while adding two rebounds, one three-pointer, and a steal in 26 minutes during Saturdays preseason loss to the Cavaliers.

Rozier got the start at point guard with Kyrie Irving getting the night off. Roziers primary role will be to back up Irving which early in the season may mean some minutes as the Celtics will monitor Irvings playing time. But Rozier will not see enough floor time to be owned in standard fantasy leagues.

With only five weeks of basketball under his belt over the past year coming into the regular season, how much Brad Stevens can allow Gordon Hayward to play through his adjustment pains as a member of the starting five will be one decision the coach will have to weigh carefully right out of the chute.

All indications from the Celtics are that Gordon Hayward will eventually get back to being the player he was when they signed him to a maximum contract a year ago.

There have be no setbacks with the left leg and ankle that Hayward injured in gruesome fashion last opening night, and caused him to miss an entire season, since he was cleared for full contact practices one month ago. He has shown hints of being the All-Star player he grew into being with the Utah Jazz during three games of limited preseason action before he sat out Saturday’s exhibition finale at Cleveland with a sore back.

But watching Hayward trying assimilate into the Celtics system for nearly 60 preseason minutes illustrates that he is not there yet. Not even close, really. And that will present Celtics coach Brad Stevens with a dilemma when the regular season begins a week from Tuesday.

When the games count, how much can you allow Hayward to play through the mistakes, and a year’s worth of rust and lost rhythm, and at what point does the coach have to go with a starting lineup and rotations that give the Celtics the absolute best chance to win on a given night?

“I think that, inevitably,” Stevens said prior to Thursdays Fan Fest at TD Garden, “when you are out for a year there is going to be a transition.”

That transition has been frustrating for the entire team through three straight lackluster efforts from the starters to end the preseason. But it has been especially tough on Hayward before the sore back flared up. In 59 minutes, 27 seconds of game action, Hayward shot just 5-for-20, scored 21 points, and was a combined minus-38.

The biggest concern has come on the defensive end where the Celtics were already going to be at a disadvantage on most nights going small, and where Hayward picked up eight fouls — including five in 12 minutes of the first half of the preseason home opener against the Charlotte Hornets — in a little more than three halves of basketball.

“That’s a speed-of-the-game thing,” Hayward said after the home opener. “Everyone focuses on the offensive end. There are definitely defensive habits that I have to build back up. Being in the right positions. Just knowing what they are going to call, what they’re not going to call, how to get away with things.”

Stevens said of that performance his team “looked like a sieve” defensively, and that “the difference with [Aron] Baynes and Robert Williams in the game was noticeable. And (Daniel) Theis at the rim.

With the first two teams — the Philadelphia 76ers and Toronto Raptors — possessing both size and great skill in the frontcourt to start the season, early issues getting in sync could be decisive against a pair of opponents the Celtics figure to battle with for the Eastern Conference title this season.

“For me, it all goes back to the defensive end,” Celtics center Al Horford said on Thursday. “That’s what I talk to the guys about. We need to be able to defend. We need to be able to rebound. We need to be connected on defense.

“Offense, it’s going to happen. We have enough firepower that we will get it going. I know we’ve been talking a lot about offense. But defense is what concerns me.”

Boston’s issues defensively this preseason have gone beyond Hayward — as evidenced by Saturday night’s 113-102 loss in Cleveland with Hayward out of the lineup — but the returning roster did show it could clamp down on that end of the floor late last regular season and during the extended playoff run.

Hayward has been an above-average defender in the past, and should be an above-average defender — as well as a potential All-Star player overall — again as this season goes on and he gets more and more comfortable being back out on the court.

But with only five weeks of basketball under his belt over the past year coming into the regular season, how much Stevens can allow him to play through his adjustment pains as a member of the starting five will be one decision the coach will have to weigh carefully right out of the chute.


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