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Balanced Celtics Pass First Test Without Hayward

By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) -- The Boston Celtics will have to manage the next six weeks without Gordon Hayward. They passed their first test with flying colors Monday night at TD Garden.

The Celtics used a balanced offensive attack, paired with their usual stingy defense, to earn their eighth straight victory with an impressive 116-106 win over the Dallas Mavericks.  Boston is now an NBA-best 8-1 on the season, and they haven't even played their best basketball yet.

Kemba Walker, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart led the charge for Boston, accounting for 71 of the team's 116 points on the evening. That trio shot 57 percent from the floor, including 14-for-25 from long distance.

As he usually does, Walker saved his best work for late in the game. After a quiet first half, he exploded for 24 second-half points, canning seven of his 11 shots. He scored 10 of his team-high 29 points in the fourth quarter, draining more crunch-time threes for the C's. He hit a triad of triples over a 70-second span that upped Boston's lead to seven points, and finished the evening with eight makes from downtown. Walker probably could have done even more damage had he not suffered a stinger in his neck after colliding with Mavs star guard Luka Doncic with 3:39 to go. (Breathe easy, Celtics fans. Walker said he was OK after the game.)

Walker is more than capable of taking over a game, and when he does, he does so in a hurry. But the Celtics are not relying on just one player to carry the load. Brown was as consistent -- and explosive -- as ever, hitting nine of his 16 shots for 25 points. He's had an extra hop in his step since returning to action, leading to some emphatic trips to the basket. Brown has now scored 25 points or more in three of his six games this season. He also led Boston with 11 rebounds on Monday night.

Then there is Marcus Smart, who continues to do Marcus Smart things for the Celtics. He once again bodied up against a much bigger opponent in Kristaps Porzingis, and helped hold Dallas' unicorn to just four points off 1-for-11 shooting. And though his long distance shot will always bring a mixed reaction of joy and terror, Smart was on-point Monday night, hitting four of his seven bids from three-point range. He shot 6-for-9 overall, finishing his evening with 17 points to go with six assists.

Boston won a tough battle against the Mavs despite Jayson Tatum having an off night -- and that's putting it lightly. Tatum shot just 1-for-18 on Monday, one of his worst games as a pro. The fact that the Celtics still won by double digits is a sure sign of just how balanced this team is.

The win wasn't pretty at times, but the Celtics understand that they're going to have to win ugly with Hayward sidelined.

"That's what it's about: Find ways to win, regardless," Brown said after the win. "The older we get as we go through this process — we're getting older, me, [Tatum], guys that have been here, Smart. We know how to win, so we've just got to continue to do that and I think today was a good example of that."

"Of course it's going to be tough trying to make up a player of Gordon's caliber. He's a great player, but we have guys who can do a lot to help this team," said Walker. "You see it, J.B. stepped up and played huge. Smart is always going to be Smart. J.T. didn't have a great shooting night but he stuck with the game and is only going to get better. Guys just have to step up their games and that's just how it has to be. It's all about the next guy."

Though the Boston bench didn't play well overall, they still received some quality minutes from a number of players, which will need to be the norm with Hayward out. Brad Wanamaker finished with 10 points in his 21 minutes, and Javonte Green added nine points in his 13 foul-filled minutes. Enes Kanter only played six minutes in his return to action, hitting his only shot while adding three rebounds.

Boston's depth will be tested nightly while Hayward is out, and those tests are going to get a lot tougher with a five-game west coast trip on the horizon. But the Celtics are off to an incredible 8-1 start, and on Monday night they showed they can overcome the adversity of losing one of their best players, while another was having a horrendous night on offense. Balance has been the team's calling card over the first three weeks of the season, with different players capable of taking over every night.

And as great as Boston has played to start the season, they are eager to keep getting better.

"We're just playing, not even worried about the record right now," said Walker. "It's a great record, don't get me twisted. I'm loving it and we're all loving that we can win these games. We're playing well, but I honestly feel that we still have so much growth as a group and we know that as a group, which is really special to me. We come into work every day and work to improve our games individually as a team."

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