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Is Gordon Hayward getting favorable treatment because of his popularity with some fans?

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The Celtics have so many talented players.

Yet, they started Gordon Hayward – whose play clearly didn’t merit it – his first 15 games this season.

Boston went just 8-7 during those games. Its main starting lineup – Kyrie Irving, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Gordon Hayward and Al Horford – scored only 91.1 points and got outscored by 3.9 points per 100 possessions during that span.

Why were the Celtics so invested in Hayward?

Several reasons:

He’s earning $31,214,295 this season and is due $66,887,775 the next two years. He was going to factor significantly into the team’s roster construction, regardless. There was plenty of financial pressure to get Hayward on track.

Hayward suffered a season-ending injury in Boston’s first game last season. He didn’t get healthy until shortly before the season. Hayward reaching full speed was always likely to require a rocky transition into game play at some point.

Celtics coach Brad Stevens coached Hayward at Butler. It always helps to have the coach so personally believe in you.

Stephen A. Smith of ESPN:

And then there’s the element of Boston, Massachusetts. They don’t just want a star. Of course, they’ll take any star that they can get, because their priority is winning. But everybody and their mother knows that particularly when it comes to Boston, if we can have a white superstar, that would be even better. And they view Gordon Hayward as having that kind of potential.

So, all of those things considered, the players recognize this, were aware of this. And ultimately those who were compromised by having to be on a court with Gordon Hayward were sensitive to it.

Not because they don’t like him. Not because he’s not a good guy, because he is a good guy. It’s just that they know he hasn’t fully recovered 100 percent from his injury. So, he’s not the same as he used to be. They know he’s going to be a step slower. They know he’s going to be compromised. I have spoken to people in the league who literally have said, “Look man, no disrespect to Gordon Hayward, nice guy, but he’s really, really compromised right now. He’s not the same guy that he was.” And they said, “We actually kind of feel sorry for him, because he is a nice guy, and we know he’s trying to come back from injury.”

Are there Celtics fans who’d prefer a white star? Yes.

Has that thinking trickled into the team’s actual decision-making? I don’t know.

Are Celtics players sensitive to all of this? Apparently so, according to Smith.

Boston has earned a reputation for its racism. That doesn’t make everyone in Boston racist. That doesn’t make anyone in the Celtics racist. That doesn’t make Boston the only city with racism. But there is a perception, and sometimes perception itself matters.

Discussion of race and the Celtics intensified two years ago, when Boston fans cheered Hayward, who was then visiting with the Jazz. Jae Crowder, who’s black and was the Celtics’ starting small forward at the time, took exception. Did Boston fans support Hayward over Crowder because of race?

Celtics fans also also cheered visiting black players, Kevin Durant the year before and Anthony Davis this season. Durant and Davis are significantly better than Hayward. On the other hand, Durant (2016), Hayward (2017) and Davis (2019) each looked like the best player Boston could realistically acquire each of those summers.

There are no clear motives here. Not every fan cheering for Hayward did so because he’s white. Even the fans who prefer their team has a white star rarely admit it, including to themselves.

But this is where perception matters. If Celtics players believe Hayward gets special consideration because he’s white, whether or not he actually does, that would lead to problems with togetherness, supportiveness, attitude and environment – all issues Boston players have said the team has faced this year.

Kyrie Irving has taken the most blame. His leadership, impending free agency and general attitude have all made waves.

But it doesn’t have to be only one thing. Whatever is happening with Irving, the situation around Hayward could also be causing resentment.

There are plenty of good reasons to lean on Hayward – his contract, his upside as he gets healthier. More than with any other player, the Celtics have played best when Hayward is playing well. It’ll be difficult for Boston to reach its goals without Hayward clicking.

He and the Celtics have played better lately. The micro problem could be solving itself – at least one micro problem.

Like most things, Boston’s issues are likely complex.

Report: Raptors could get OG Anunoby back during Finals

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The Toronto Raptors are headed to the 2019 NBA Finals, and they are going to need every player on their roster if they want a chance at dethroning the Golden State Warriors.

Forward OG Anunoby has been out since early April after needing an emergency appendectomy. He has not played in the playoffs yet this season, but a new report says the Raptors may be hopeful he could return before the end of this final series.

Via Twitter:

Anunoby Is a useful second-year forward who plays hard on both ends of the floor. Toronto is going to have a hard time matching up with the Warriors defensively, whether Kevin Durant plays or not. Having Anunoby available would help Toronto be more switchable and more adept at taking on some of Golden State’s smaller lineups.

We don’t have a timetable for Anunoby’s potential return yet, but the way the Finals are spaced out (Game 1 is on Thursday, Game 2 is next Sunday) it could help get players healthy and ready.

That could be good news for Kawhi Leonard, who sat out several games this year simply to rest. Leonard has looked a little banged up through these playoffs, as has just about everyone else. The bad news for Toronto is that this time between games could also help the Warriors get Durant ready to play.

Game 1 of the 2019 NBA Finals is on Thursday at 6 p.m. PST in Canada.

Drake gave Nick Nurse another shoulder rub (VIDEO)

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People are already getting tired of Drake being a prominent figure in the storyline of the Toronto Raptors. They will have to just deal with it for now as Toronto is headed to the 2019 NBA Finals after beating the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Saturday night.

That said, Drake is actually an ambassador for the Raptors. Some folks seem to forget that.

There was a dust-up during the Eastern Conference Finals about Drake having given Raptors coach Nick Nurse a shoulder rub during Game 4. Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer thought that fans shouldn’t be interacting with members of the coaching staff or players, but the Raptors didn’t seem to think it was that big a deal.

After the Raptors won on Saturday, Drake embraced Nurse yet again, playing off of the initial kerfuffle.

Via Twitter:

Get ready to see more Drake than you’ve ever wanted.

Watch Raptors fans celebrate Finals berth in streets of Toronto (VIDEO)

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The Toronto Raptors are headed to their first NBA Finals in franchise history. Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry beat Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday night in Game 6 to send them home and push Toronto into the final series of the year against the Golden State Warriors.

Raptors fans, who have been perennially disappointed by teams who were just good enough, naturally found themselves celebrating in the streets of Ontario. Videos of cars honking and people walking through the avenues surfaced on social media, with the whole thing looking like a big party.

Via Twitter:

The Raptors aren’t the most talented team in the Eastern Conference, but they did have the best player in the entire playoffs this season in Leonard. Coach Nick Nurse figured out a way to stop the Bucks by collapsing on Antetokounmpo, and Milwaukee’s shooters went cold at just the wrong time. The rest of the Raptors bench finally gave Leonard some support, and Toronto was able to mount a comeback in the series to push themselves into the NBA finals.

For that, both Toronto and the Raptors fans deserve to be overjoyed with what’s happening right now.

Game 1 of the 2019 NBA Finals will be on Thursday at 6 p.m. PST in Toronto.

Bucks fans greet team, Giannis Antetokounmpo at Milwaukee airport (VIDEO)

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The Milwaukee Bucks season is over. Giannis Antetokounmpo and his supporting cast couldn’t get things done in Game 6 on Saturday night against the Toronto Raptors in Canada. Now it’s Kawhi Leonard who is heading to the 2019 NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors.

This season was a magical one for Milwaukee, one in which they took the No. 1 overall seed in the Eastern Conference and likely have the league’s MVP in Antetokounmpo.

As you might expect, Bucks fans are happy about that fact, and showed up to the Milwaukee’s Mitchell Airport to greet their returning team.

Via Twitter:

It has to be nice for athletes to get this kind of treatment. Although some may want to just go home and languish in their defeat, the unwavering support of fanatics has to take the bite out of the sting, even if just a little bit.