INDIANAPOLIS — Friday night’s Game 3 will be a homecoming of sorts for Celtics coach Brad Stevens and forward Gordon Hayward.
“I grew up here,” Stevens said. “These were my playoff experiences growing up, coming to Pacers games.”
The pair of Indiana natives will be returning to Bankers Life Fieldhouse, where the Celtics hope to extend their 2-0 series lead over the Indiana Pacers in their first-round playoff series. The setting should certainly hold a level of sentimental value for Hayward, who, as a high school senior at Brownsburg, hit a buzzer-beater to win the 2008 state basketball tournament.
“That’s something I’ll never forget,” Hayward said after shootaround Friday morning. “I think high school basketball in Indiana is just about everything. It was a memory that’ll last forever.”
There was even icing on the cake.
“It was actually the day before my birthday, too, so we got back to the gym and the whole town sang, ‘Happy Birthday,’” Hayward recalled, with a smile. “It was quite an extravaganza. It was cool.”
Although that memory is one of his favorites, Hayward has, at least outwardly, dispelled the notion that returning to his home state carries any overwhelmingly noticeable nostalgia. After all, in his nine-year NBA career, the 29-year-old has played nine road games against the Pacers, including a 9-for-9, 21-point performance in April.
Stevens, too, has had his fair share of visits during his six-year tenure with the Celtics, but he emphasized the present, and the short-term future, currently take precedence over the past.
“I think we both just kind of do our jobs,” said Stevens, who joked last week he was “dropping friends by the minute.”
Hayward enjoyed a family dinner Thursday night — and expects “a great crowd” full of friends and family Friday night — while Stevens said he plans to spend his downtime “holed up” in his hotel room, waiting until the summer to see people.
That’s not to say he won’t reflect on the surrealness of the series on a later date. (How can you not after fellow Indiana native, Celtics legend, and former Pacers executive Larry Bird attends Games 1 and 2?)
“I’m an Indiana kid,” Stevens said the other day. “Basketball and that state are really, really important for me. That being said, I kind of stay in this world of focus ahead, focus on what’s next. I’ll look back on it after the fact.”
Smart still a ways off
Injured Celtics shooting guard Marcus Smart made the trip to Indiana, although he’s still recovering from a partially torn oblique muscle.
After getting some soft, stationary shots up with assistant coach Jay Larranaga during shootaround — he didn’t jump nor did he really bend his knees — Smart noted he’s “nowhere near coming back” but is still making “great progress.”
“It definitely still hurts,” he said. “It doesn’t hurt as much as the initial injury or as much as it did a couple days ago. But there’s definitely still some pain there.”
Smart said he can’t run yet, but he is walking fluidly and hopes to start jogging in the “next couple weeks.” The current goal is still returning to a baseline where he can complete everyday tasks “without excruciating pain.”
While he is sidelined, Smart said he plans to continue to be vocal on the bench — something president of basketball Danny Ainge has encouraged.