Without Irving and Hayward, C's Look To Regain Rhythm in Cleveland

BOSTON – The Celtics will play their final preseason game with a roster that looks eerily similar to the one with which it ended last season – one without Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward.

Irving stated Thursday night that he is experiencing sore ribs, which began to surface during Wednesday afternoon’s practice. Hayward, meanwhile, did not practice Wednesday due to a sore back.

Neither player will travel with the team Friday afternoon to Cleveland, instead opting to remain in Boston for treatment with Boston’s medical staff.

Terry Rozier is likely to start in Irving’s place, as he did Tuesday night against Cleveland at TD Garden. It remains to be determined as to who will start in place of Hayward, although the leading candidates are likely Marcus Morris and Marcus Smart.

Smart, who is a point guard by trade but plays multiple positions thanks to his size, doesn’t believe that Irving’s and Hayward’s absences are issues for the team.

“I don’t think it’s going to affect us in any harmful way,” he said before Friday’s practice at the Auerbach Center. “I think it will help.”

How so? He explained.

“It allows us to figure out how to play without those guys, and then when they come back, how to play with those guys,” Smart said. “So we get the best of both worlds.”

Smart also noted that Irving and Hayward are two players who will be very easily worked back into the fold when the team resumes practice Tuesday afternoon.

“They make everybody else’s lives easier,” he said. “They take a lot of attention off of other guys because of who they are. Everybody is locked in on those guys, so that opens the floor for everyone else on the team.”

Ironically, their absences will open up a different type of opportunity Saturday night, one similar to what the team experienced last season.

The Celtics stormed through the 2018 postseason, advancing all the way to Game 7 of the Conference Finals, while Irving and Hayward were out with injuries. Multiple players stepped up and played at a level they had never reached before during their NBA careers.

So far during this preseason, however, that level of individual and team play has been missing. The C’s are trying to regain it, and Saturday night provides another opportunity to do so. Prior to Friday’s practice, Brad Stevens highlighted exactly what the team needs to improve.

“We need to defend harder and better, and we need to really continue to improve our reads on the offensive end of the floor,” commented Brad Stevens. “Those are the two things that I’ll be looking at the closest.”

Meanwhile, Smart is putting a heavy emphasis on making those adjustments and improvements during this particular game.

“You’ve got to take advantage of it,” he said of the final exhibition contest. “It’s the last time we’ll see a different team (until Opening Night), so you’ve got to go out there and give it everything and get ready for the season, because this is it, we don’t have any more.”

What the Celtics do have more of is opportunity for growth. They’ll just need to seize that opportunity Saturday night without Irving and Hayward, the same way they did a season ago.