Gordon Hayward is back. In a 22-point blowout against Cleveland, he had a ho-hum 14 points on 7-of-10 shooting, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists in his return. Little rust slowed down the ten-year pro as he seamlessly reintegrated himself back into the Celtics’ system.
You can see where Brad Stevens has carved groove lines into the parquet floor for Hayward to operate in. Like with most playmakers, he gets freed of his defender with a screen and starts going downhill with the dribble. That’s fairly standard. However, what makes Hayward special is his size and patience.
Ironically, it was on Hayward’s only miss inside of the arc that perfectly illustrates his ability to make plays in and around the paint.
As good as Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, and Marcus Smart have been in Hayward’s absence, they don’t have that Neo-level vision to operate in The Matrix yet. Gordon Hayward knows kung fu. He misses the bunny here on a straight line drive against the Cavaliers, but you can see Stevens’ craftsmanship in the play construction. Coming off the curl, Hayward has four options: 1) the drive, 2) hitting the breaks and pulling up for the mid-range, 3) Enes Kanter on the roll (aided cleverly by the Brad Wanamaker blind back screen), and 4) Wanamaker popping out behind the arc. Hayward can make all those shots and passes with ease.
Hayward has built up his body since Stevens recruited the lanky tennis player to Butler. His 6’7, 225-pound frame is best used playing hours of online RPG’s and fending off defenders with his broad shoulders. Avoid contact and sag and Hayward will spin and hit that pretty fadeaway jumper at the top of the key. Press up and Hayward will lower the boom with his shoulder, shrug you off, stop time, and kiss it off the glass. In an impressive run in the third quarter, he trucked the bigger Tristan Thompson for a layup and lost Cedi Osman on a bit of trickery with a fadeaway stepback.
And as Stevens has noted several times, Hayward is a menace off the ball, too. The Celtics are loaded on the wings and there’s usually a mismatch they can exploit without much action. He can take smaller guards in the paint like he does here, bulldozing Collin Sexton.
Later in the third, he fakes the dribble hand off and cuts back door on Cedi Osman.
After the game, Kemba Walker spoke about Hayward’s return and just what it means to have him back on the floor:
“I think we’re pretty tough with G, of course,” Walker said. “He just does so much for us, man. He just does a great job at just taking pressure off a lot of us. Whenever we need a big play he’s someone we know we can go to and he’s going to make the right play whether it be scoring or making the right pass. So it’s really, really good to have him back.”
Over the past couple of weeks while Hayward recovered from his broken left hand, there’s been a lot of talk about who could represent the Celtics in the All Star Game in February. As the leading scorer and assist man for Boston, Walker seems to be a shoe in for Chicago. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown have both had resume-writing stretches to validate a first time trip to the mid-season classic. However, if Hayward can play at the level he was at before getting his hand caught in LaMarcus Aldridge’s jersey and last night against the Cavaliers, he could easily make a strong case to rep the East.