Over the last three games, Gordon Hayward has looked a little different. The tentativeness is fading away and he’s getting more aggressive with the ball in his hands. He’s looking for his shot and becoming more of a pressure point that the Celtics can push whenever the offense starts to bog down.
On Thursday night, Hayward played his best game in green, finishing with 18 points on 6-for-11 shooting and five assists. It’s the closest he’s looked to the max free agent that Boston signed last summer before his devastating ankle injury. After the game, Hayward credited his strong outing to his hot start, saying, “Started off with a good start. Just out there, playing, competing. I’ve said it before, but game by game, there’s different things I’m getting more and more comfortable. I had some open looks from 3 that were good, able to knock them down. Tonight was good for me.”
When asked if this was the best he’s felt so far, Hayward couldn’t help but smile and say, “It felt good to be out there at the end of the game, too. It’s an ongoing process. Last game wasn’t that great. Tonight was a little better.”
Hayward not only acted as a closer against the Bucks, but he also played his most minutes so far with 27. He was hot early with his three-point stroke, but as the game progressed, it was his ability to act as a ball handler that really opened up his game.
”It’s something that I’m used to doing, making plays for others, something I really enjoy doing, too,” Hayward said. ”I thought tonight, I got a little more of an opportunity to do it more.”
This will be his next progression as the soreness in his left ankle subsides and his confidence increases, but Hayward understands that these are baby steps at his ultimate goal of not just being 100%, but even better than his final season in Utah.
When asked about a heart-stopping play in the first half when he tried to block a shot and landed hard on his left leg, Hayward replied, “I’ve got to be knocked down. I have to land on that one foot a little awkwardly just so that mentally--mentally, I know I can do it--but also physically too, it can hold and be strong.”
Here’s Hayward’s full comments after Boston’s 117-113 win over the previously undefeated Milwaukee Bucks: