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Marcus Smart’s intense antics propelled Gordon Hayward to breakout game with Celtics

Gordon Hayward, Celtics

The Boston Celtics spent a large part of their poor start to the season lamenting Gordon Hayward’s slow return to action. Defensive ace Marcus Smart, also looking for answers to steer his team to a winning route, took matters into his own hands.

As Tom Westerholm of MassLive describes it, the pesky defender got into Hayward’s skin during practice to help trigger an explosion outside the practice floor, which he had in an efficient 30-point, nine-rebound, eight-assist performance against the Minnesota Timberwolves.

“The Celtics were embroiled in one of their toughest practices of the season, and they were poking and prodding at Hayward — “fouling him and s***” as Marcus Morris put it,” wrote Westerholm.

“He just got red at one point,” Morris said. “He was really upset. He was going really hard.”

The catalyst (predictably) was Marcus Smart, according to Morris. The Celtics’ chief instigator got tangled up with Hayward, and Hayward was quietly boiling.

The results were eye-opening. Brad Stevens said the practice let him know Hayward had a big performance was coming. Kyrie Irving said he knew Hayward had “that ticker inside him.” Morris said Hayward started getting out in transition and dunking in ways the Celtics had yet to see since he joined the team.”

Hayward had been a caged lion, as he tried hard to fit seamlessly within this team and not disrupt the chemistry his teammates had during a rousing postseason run that had them one game away from the NBA Finals.

With Jaylen Brown struggling and Jayson Tatum still finding his sophomore footing, Hayward’s brilliance is needed more than ever, as the Celtics look to be hitting their stride with three consecutive wins heading into an easy two-game week.