Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge likes what he sees through six games but still thinks the team can be more consistent.
“We’ve had some really bad halves and some fantastic halves of basketball,” Ainge said Thursday morning on 98.5 The Sports Hub’s “Toucher and Rich.” “There’s always going to be something, but I’m excited about what I’m seeing and how our guys have been able to battle through the tough times of the game, hang in there, and start making shots when the ball’s not going in for stretches.”
After a season-opening loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, the Celtics have strung together a five-game win streak highlighted by a come-from-behind victory over the Milwaukee Bucks and Jayson Tatum’s first-ever NBA game-winner two days later. Ainge said the team has played well at “the most important times,” and mentioned that Gordon Hayward’s contributions have not come as a surprise.
In each of Boston’s games this season, Hayward has shot at least 40 percent from the field. He’s averaging 20.3 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 4.3 assists per game. But Ainge noted he doesn’t like to view the game from a statistical perspective. Instead, he tries to focus on how players impact winning.
“Are they making the right decision?” Ainge said. “Are they making the right pass and the right read at the right time? Are they aggressive? Are they confident? I saw that in Gordon a lot last year. I’m not surprised by a breakout performance that he had because I saw him have those the second half of last year. The minutes and the touches and the shots just weren’t available to him last year.”
Ainge attributed Hayward’s production to his re-found starting role, as well as the hard work the 29-year-old logged over the summer in Boston. “He wanted to make Brad play him, and play him more and trust him and believe in him again to be one of the primary ball handlers and decision makers on the team,” Ainge said. He also pointed out that, compared to last season, the offense’s main scorers and facilitators are much more obvious this year, giving way to Hayward’s success.
One area of improvement Ainge identified is the team’s rebounding. Overall, though, he’s happy with how the bigs have fared and specifically praised center Daniel Theis.
“He looks really alert,” Ainge said. “He looks fresh and bouncy. He’s really been an anchor for our defense.”
Other comments from Ainge:
- Regarding Marcus Morris’s recent comment that he didn’t receive a call from the Celtics during free agency, Ainge believes Morris is referencing the fact that he didn’t receive an offer from the organization. Ainge said he, assistant coach Jerome Allen, and coach Brad Stevens all spoke to Morris during the offseason. Ainge also revealed that the Celtics offered Morris a three-year contract extension in 2018, but the forward elected to pursue free agency. The Celtics had to renounce Morris, in addition to other free agents, in order to sign point guard Kemba Walker this summer.
- On rookie Carsen Edwards’s shooting woes — Edwards is shooting 29.4 percent from three — Ainge said the 21-year-old needs to find other ways to contribute given his current reserve role: “He has to learn how to become a great defender, learn our defensive schemes, and make fewer mistakes on that end of the court, if the ball is not going in or if he doesn’t even get any shots. That’s what he’s working on. That’s the phase of his career he’s in.”
- Ainge said he is rooting for both Isaiah Thomas and Terry Rozier, a pair of former Celtics point guards. The Celtics visit Rozier and the Charlotte Hornets Thursday and will host Thomas and the Washington Wizards Wednesday. Ainge called Thomas “one of [his] favorite people [he’s] been around in this business.”