Much-improved Thunder visiting Boston
After Gordon Hayward's first season with the Boston Celtics lasted less than five minutes, Hayward's second season has been mostly about rounding back into form.
Entering Sunday's home game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Hayward is finally starting to flash the form that made him an All-Star in his final season in Utah in 2017.
"It's slowly starting to come back, I think," Hayward told MassLive.com after he scored 14 points on 5-of-8 shooting in Friday's win over the New York Knicks.
Celtics coach Brad Stevens said he's seen plenty of progress from Hayward just in the last week. It's not necessarily tied to his numbers, but with the explosion he's able to generate at both ends of the floor.
"I thought each of the last two games he's looked like that," Stevens said. "So he had the couple of games that I think obviously he didn't play as well as (he wanted to). But for the most part in this stretch he's been really reliable and does what he does."
While Hayward's play has been a positive, the Celtics are also dealing with the drama surrounding Kyrie Irving.
The Boston star has played well, scoring 23 or more points in seven consecutive games he's played, though he's missed four with injury during that stretch.
After talking about re-signing with the Celtics before the season, Irving has been frustrated with Boston's lack of progress this year. Entering Sunday's game, the Celtics are in the middle of the pack among the Eastern Conference's current playoff teams.
Boston has won three consecutive games and eight of nine.
The last time the teams met, in late October in Oklahoma City, the Thunder were a bit of a mess.
Boston beat Oklahoma City 101-95 then, the Thunder's fourth consecutive loss to begin the season.
But since then, Oklahoma City is 33-14 and comes into Sunday's game on a seven-game winning streak that includes four road wins.
A big part of the Thunder's success since then has been the production of their point guards, especially recently.
The starter there, Russell Westbrook, enters Saturday's game with five consecutive triple-doubles after posting 14 points, 12 rebounds and 14 assists in Friday's win at Miami.
Westbrook's backup, Dennis Schroder, has scored 49 points on the first two games of this three-game road trip.
Friday, Schroder was 11 of 13 from the floor.
Schroder has tried to make the transition from being a big second-half presence off the bench to being a four quarters player.
Earlier in the week, Schroder said he needed to be more aggressive from the outset and that's what he showed against Miami without being reckless.
"I think there's some times, guys can get hot, they can almost go into heat-check mode," Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. "I didn't feel like he was doing that. I thought he was getting in the flow of our offense and I thought he was taking shots he was capable of making."
--Field Level Media
Updated February 3, 2019