Gordon Hayward shows why the Boston Celtics signed him in win over Milwaukee Bucks
There are a bunch of storylines here (you can read our preview of the game to get a glimpse of the storylines going into it).
Kyrie Irving submitted his second straight high-scoring game after struggling to find his touch for the first couple weeks of the season. The team set a Boston Celtics franchise record for 3-pointers in a game with 24, shattering the old record of 19 and coming one shy of the NBA record.
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This was a great win against a previously undefeated squad, and there’s no shortage of positive things to take away it.
But for a team optimistically eyeing a championship, nothing could possibly be as encouraging as seeing Gordon Hayward finally look like he belonged.
So far this season, we’ve seen Hayward playing sort of like the little brother joining his big brother and his friends at the court. He’s looked unsure of his abilities, and has generally tried to stay out of the way.
He knows he’s more or less new to the team, even though he’s had a year to get to know his teammates. He’s been a great role player, moving the ball and taking open shots when they come his way; but he hasn’t been Gordon Hayward, the versatile star that was supposed to transform the team.
Last night, the Boston Celtics finally saw the Gordon Hayward they signed to a four-year max contract a year ago.
Everything about last night was different for Hayward, starting right from the beginning of the game. With the score 0-0, he caught the ball from Al Horford on the wing and didn’t hesitate for a second.
About a minute later, he blocked Malcolm Brogdon as he drove baseline and then went coast-to-coast for an assertive layup.
Hayward is both trying to find his athleticism and trying to rediscover the mentality that made him a star. Athletically, Hayward is looking less hindered every game. He showed his explosiveness of in a block attempt that was ruled a goaltend (and nobody cared that it was a goaltend; just seeing him get off the ground like that was awesome, regardless of the result). He landed hard on the same leg he injured last October, but shook it off and continued playing.
“I have to get knocked down,” Hayward said after the game. “I have to land on that one foot a little awkwardly, just so mentally I know I can do it, but also physically I can hold and be strong.”
Every minute he’s on the court and every awkward landing survived will help Hayward clear the mental hurdles that stand in front of NBA players long after their bodies are healed. Meanwhile, every made shot will help him build the confidence needed to excel on a team as stacked as these Boston Celtics are.
He hit threes off the catch and off the dribble. He moved expertly off the ball, at one point taking advantage of Irving’s dribbling wizardry to find himself a wide open shot. He looked great as a passer, repeatedly driving and finding open men even in heavy traffic (on the first possession of the third, he pulled off a crazy one-handed pass from the right elbow to an open Kyrie Irving in the left corner). He navigated the pick and roll perfectly, at one point finding two consecutive three-pointers for Marcus Morris. He was efficient and played within the system, but assertive and unafraid.
He was the version of Gordon Hayward that the Boston Celtics need him to be.
Brad Stevens said after the game that he likes having different guys initiate because you get inherently different looks when it’s player X running the show than you do when it’s player Y or Z.
Hayward should have plenty of opportunities to dictate the offense, and if last night is any indicator, that’s a big plus for the team. It’s not a coincidence that this was not just Hayward’s, but the team’s best offensive game.
It’s still going to take a while before Hayward is fully confident in his body and his abilities again. But Thursday night showed Celtics fans exactly what he can do for this team, and exactly why he is worth every penny he signed for. Hayward at full strength could be a gigantic difference-maker for this Boston Celtics squad.