Celtics forward Blake Griffin post up Hornets center Nick Richards during Boston’s 140-105 win on Monday in Boston. Griffin played 22 minutes and scored nine points in his first action in nearly two weeks.  Steve Senne/Associated Press

As Blake Griffin elevated for his first dunk with the Celtics, his teammates went berserk. Mfiondu Kabengele couldn’t control himself as the entire bench rose together in unison. Even Jayson Tatum, on the court, raised his arms in the air and let out a scream before heading back on defense.

It seemed like the Celtics had been waiting for this moment, when Griffin would turn back the clock for one of his vintage slams. There’s some humorous irony in it for the 33-year-old Griffin, who made plays like that – finishing a lob from Derrick White with a one-handed slam – on a nightly basis in Los Angeles.

“I just always think it’s really funny,” Griffin said after Monday night’s 140-105 win over the Hornets. “I’ve said this before, but at the beginning of my career, it was all, ‘Do something else besides dunk,’ and now everybody just wants me to dunk. So it’s just a good lesson in that you can never please everybody.”

But make no mistake – the Celtics are very pleased having Griffin around.

On most nights this season, Griffin hasn’t even played. He’s seen the court in just eight of the first 21 games. He’s been, by all accounts, the perfect locker room guy for this group. He’s a natural jokester, keeping a championship-hungry team loose throughout a long year. He’s a veteran leader, always willing to impart the wisdom he’s compiled over 13 seasons on his younger teammates. Before every game, he said, he talks to everyone and has a message for all his teammates.

“Guys flock to him,” Celtics interim coach Joe Mazzulla said.


Griffin has constantly been in Payton Pritchard’s ear this season, telling him to always stay ready for his moment. In Monday’s win, he practiced what he’s preaching and showed he’s still capable of contributing on the floor, too.

With Al Horford out as the Celtics played the second night of a back-to-back, Griffin started, playing for the first time in nearly two weeks and was productive in 22 minutes. He scored nine points and had four rebounds. He did the dirty work, drawing two charges and even keeping the ball alive on the possession that led to his highlight dunk.

Griffin has accepted that he’s no longer a star and has embraced his reduced role on a championship roster. That may be hard for some players with his pedigree but it seems natural for him. He’s willing to do anything the Celtics need. Most nights, that’s been off the court. But he’s always ready for the occasional spot start. There’s real value in that for a team with sights on a championship.

“He’s a great teammate,” Luke Kornet said. “He’s always just uplifting guys and helping guys. It’s a great balance of great being around the team, and he’s a great person to have around. But also when it comes to the games, it’s all business. You can tell by the way he goes out and plays and does everything he can to contribute. I think it’s pretty infectious for the team, and we’re very fortunate and lucky to have him.”

GORDON HAYWARD can’t seem to find any luck. The former Celtics forward was back at TD Garden on Monday night with the Hornets, but he wasn’t in uniform again after suffering a fractured shoulder that’s keeping him out indefinitely.

Hayward, of course, suffered a gruesome leg injury in his first game with the Celtics in 2017 and has had frustrating injury luck since. But the Hornets are still hopeful that they can the best version from a healthy Hayward, and are trying to keep him encouraged.

“We met (Sunday) night and we had a long talk about this because he’s ready to have a good year,” Hornets Coach Steve Clifford said. “He had a great summer. (Hornets medical director) Joe Sharpe told me before we started, this is the healthiest he’s been since he’s been in Charlotte. He was doing these, hour in the gym starting at 6 a.m., hour in the weight room and then doing his rehab in the morning. When we started, he was in great shape and in a good place. He’s been unlucky. We’re 20 games in. That’s the way we have to look at this.

“Like I told him last night, he put himself in a place to have a good year. He didn’t get to play the last 30 games last year. It’s going to take him a little bit of time to get back in rhythm. But even then, he had some terrific games for us when he’s been able to play. He’s just been hurt.”

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