It’s no secret that the Boston Celtics are having a turbulent season. A team that many expected to be the best in the Eastern Conference has been plagued by both poor play and media controversies. With all the noise going into this week, from constant rumors surrounding PG Kyrie Irving’s future plans to speculation about offseason moves, many thought that the Celtics’ season was on the precipice of derailment.
Instead, the Celtics had a great week beating the Los Angeles Lakers, Sacramento Kings, and the Golden State Warriors on a dominant California swing. In all of these games, the Celtics played with a lot more intensity and cohesiveness. While a lot of the credit has to go to both Kyrie Irving and Jason Tatum, the player that will have the most vital impact on this team’s future success this season is Gordon Hayward.
Anyone who has been watching Hayward this season knows that his return from a horrendous ankle injury he suffered on opening night last season in Cleveland has not been great. While it was expected for him to take some time to adjust back to game speed, it was clear from the start of this season that he was not ready to have a role in the starting lineup. Part of that adjustment was getting readjusted to the speed of the game, and more importantly regaining confidence in his offensive and defensive abilities. In spite of his difficulties this season, last week Hayward was the key piece in the Celtics’ victories over the Lakers, Kings and Warriors. What makes Hayward so important to this team’s success is his ability to lead Boston’s second unit, and his amazing offensive prowess. When he plays at his best, Hayward is an off-ball machine, able to knock down shots from anywhere on the court.
Many times the Celtics use him as a threat to space the floor, which in turn helps open the driving lanes for both Kyrie and Tatum to score. He can also take the defender off the dribble to hit contested shots in the low-post. Last week his offensive prowess was on full display.
Starting with the Lakers game, Hayward showed a great display of his offensive talent. He scored 15 points and had a field goal percentage of 75% (6-8). He did this from a multitude of shots throughout the court, from a corner three, to a myriad of mid-range shots off of the dribble. With him and 5 other players scoring in double figures, the Celtics were able to have a balanced attack that simply overwhelmed the Lakers. He added a pair of rebounds and assists in 30 minutes to help the Celtics cruise past LeBron and Lakers 120-107.
Against Golden State, Hayward was spectacular scoring 30 points and again shooting 75% from the field and from beyond the arc. Hayward has only had 2 other 30+ point games this season, and they were both against the Minnesota Timberwolves. When he scores over 20 points, the Celtics are undefeated this season. This demonstrates that if he were more willing score points on a consistent basis, this team would greatly benefit as it would force defenses to have to deal with another major offensive threat. The Celtics embarrassed GSW 128-95 at Oracle Arena with Hayward leading the charge (30/7/4).
And the last game that truly demonstrated Gordon’s importance to his team was the Celtics matchup against the Sacramento Kings. In this game, Hayward was not having a great shooting performance as he missed all his threes and missed both free throw attempts. To make matters worse, he committed a terrible shooting foul at the end of the game which lead to three free throws by Buddy Hield. With the game tied after his costly mistake, and with no timeouts left, Hayward dribbled the ball across half court and all the way to the rim- making a heavily contested shot near the basket on his back foot. This would be the game winner, and it showed that Hayward still has the ability to score in the clutch like he did in Utah years ago.
This game however demonstrated the issue with Gordon Hayward this season. Despite making the game winning basket, without Kyrie on the floor, he only took 10 shots. There are so many times that Hayward will become too passive and allow his teammate to initiate a lot of the action within the game. If the Boston Celtics want to be contenders, then Hayward has to be willing to take more shots and ignite the offense. When he plays confidently and is willing to take more shots, like he did last week, the Celtics become one of the best teams not only in the Eastern Conference, but in the entire league.