BOSTON, Mass. — Tuesday night will be an emotional one for Gordon Hayward.
The veteran forward will start for the Boston Celtics in their Opening Night clash against the Philadelphia 76ers at TD Garden, which will mark his first regular-season game action since he suffered a gruesome lower-leg injury in last season’s opener against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
But if you thought Brad Stevens had a spine-tingling pregame speech for Hayward ahead of his return, think again. Prior to tip-off, the Celtics head coach revealed what he planned on saying to Hayward before the game, and it’s very on-brand for Stevens.
“Do your job on the first possession,” Stevens said. “Let everything else take care of itself.”
The C’s head man also was quick to point out that Hayward won’t be the only player with emotions running high Tuesday night.
“That’s the only way to go about it,” Stevens said. “I know it’s an emotional night. It’s an emotional night for everybody. They get to play an NBA game again and it’s real and Gordon’s not the only one coming back that didn’t play in the playoffs. Kyrie (Irving) didn’t play in the playoffs, Daniel Theis didn’t play in the playoffs. They got guys that will play that didn’t play. Like everybody’s gonna be jacked up and amped up about the game. So, do your job well, alright? That’s one of the tasks that great teams are able to do and so we’ll try to focus on that. There will be a lot of energy. There will probably be some missed opportunities early because of that. Whichever team settles into that sooner rather than later will be in good shape.”
Don’t expect Hayward to be completely thrown into the fire upon his return either. Stevens noted Monday that he’ll likely limit the ninth-year star to roughly 25 minutes per game through the first couple weeks of the season. Luckily for Boston, it has more than enough depth to accommodate Hayward easing back into action.
So while Stevens’ pregame note for Hayward is far from a Ray Lewis-level pump-up, it’s tough to argue with the coach’s core message. It likely won’t be limited to Hayward either, as it would behoove every player up and down the Celtics’ roster to put Stevens’ advice into action and take it one possession at a time.