addByline("Taylor C. Snow", "Celtics.com", "taylorcsnow");
BOSTON – Gordon Hayward had been anticipating his introduction to Celtics Nation all summer long. The All-Star wing finally got his first taste of TD Garden and its supportive fans Sunday evening during the team’s Open Practice/Fan Fest event, and the experience turned out to be everything he had been hoping for.
One-by-one, the names of the Celtics players boomed over the Garden’s public address system, as they were called out to greet approximately 5,000 fans who had filled up most of the lower bowl of the arena.
Hayward received one of the loudest ovations, as he was introduced second-to-last in the roll call.
“Getting the chance to be in the Garden, see some fans... this is why I wanted to be here,” Hayward told the Boston media. “So I could be amongst the people of Boston and wear the Celtics jersey.”
Fellow newcomer Kyrie Irving was introduced directly after Hayward, and he earned the loudest ovation of all.
“There’s nothing like it,” the four-time All-Star point guard said with a smile as he gazed up and admired the 17 Championship banners that hang from the TD Garden rafters. “The energy in here, I can really feel it.”
After going through the formal introductions, many of Boston’s younger players hit the court for a game of knockout. Brad Stevens, who, minutes earlier claimed that he was simply “going to be a fan” during the night’s festivities, hopped into the competition while sporting a boyish grin. To the surprise of many, the coach shot the lights out and ended up being among the final three standing, before he was eventually eliminated by second-round pick Jabari Bird.
Next, there was a highly competitive skills competition, which featured a neck-and-neck finish between returning guards Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier. It was Smart who would come out on top, as he captured the event on a self-served, ally-oop dunk off the backboard.
If that didn’t get fans going, the next event – a 3-point competition – certainly did. This was when Celtics Nation got its first glimpse of Hayward’s skill set, as he stepped behind the arc to showcase his shooting prowess. After beating Al Horford in the first round, Hayward met rookie Jayson Tatum in the finals. Shockingly, the 19-year-old upset the vet, as Tatum showed poise in his Garden debut with an outstanding 19-point winning effort.
The night was capped off with a discussion panel that featured players Jaylen Brown, Aron Baynes, Irving and Smart, along with host Abby Chin of CSN. With a microphone in his hand, Irving took this opportunity to start his first “Let’s Go Celtics” chant, which was echoed throughout the arena by the enthusiastic sea of fans.
“It’s just an enjoyable experience,” Irving reflected to the media. “This is Day 1 of a long road ahead, of a long journey for all of us going through it together.”
With Day 1 out of the way, the Celtics are anxiously waiting for Day 2 tomorrow, as they ready themselves to take on their first preseason opponent. The Celtics will host the Charlotte Hornets at 7:30 p.m. at TD Garden, where they’ll finally get to put this past week’s hard work to the test.
“The more and more that we play together, the easier it will be and the better we’ll become,” said Hayward. “That’s why tomorrow is going to be good, because we’re going against another team, instead of your own players who know the plays and know exactly what you’re trying to run. So it will give us a little bit of a gauge to see where we’re at.”
It will also give Hayward a chance to finally play a game in front of a packed house at TD Garden. A chance to finally suit up in front of the passionate fan base that played such a large role in his decision to join the Boston Celtics this past summer.