It’s been a roller-coaster season for Gordon Hayward, but it appears the veteran forward is starting to come into his own.
Hayward was stellar off the bench in the Boston Celtics’ road win over the Miami Heat on Wednesday, scoring a game-high 25 points to go along with eight rebounds and five assists. The ninth-year pro also stepped up as Boston’s closer with Kyrie Irving sidelined during crunch time due to foul trouble.
It’s been a trying season for everyone on the Celtics, but arguably no one more so than Hayward. He’s been tasked with living up to lofty expectations amid his first full season in Boston all while trying to regain All-Star form following a gruesome injury last October. If that wasn’t enough, the C’s as a team have dealt with their own issues, highlighted by struggles to make the most of an exceptionally deep roster.
As such, it’s taken probably longer than expected for Hayward to build his confidence. But the improvements he’s made in that area haven’t gone unnoticed by his teammates.
“It’s night and day, I believe,” Al Horford said Wednesday, per MassLive’s Tom Westerholm. “I just think that not only is he starting to understand what he wants to do and he’s feeling good, but also us. We are starting to understand how to play with Gordon a little more. When the ball is in his hands, usually good things happen, and we just need him to continue to play with that confidence.”
Irving added: “We’re best when (Hayward) is looking for his shot. He’s a great facilitator. But we need G to score. I told him that, and I’m going to keep telling him to stay aggressive and be him and really be that 20-point scorer that he was. That takes a lot of pressure off me where I don’t have to handle the ball as much, and I can be kind of floating around the perimeter and cutting backdoor and just doing the little things that I can do to affect the game other than just having the ball in my hands and trying to score.”
Stats back up Irving’s assessment, too.
Hayward is starting to look like his old self at the perfect time for the C’s, and he might just be their X-factor once the NBA playoffs get underway.
Thumbnail photo via Harrison Barden/USA TODAY Sports