Both Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum earned the accolades following the Celtics’ blowout win against Cleveland. They combined for a total of 64 points in the game. There was an unsung hero from this game, too. Gordon Hayward played a complete game, pulling the strings which enabled his younger teammates to thrive on both ends. Hayward has been continuing his comeback from yet another injury setback and is quietly getting things done all over the floor.
In last night’s game, he ended the contest with 7 points, 5 rebounds, 8 assists, and a block in just over 27 minutes of game time. That’s the great thing about Hayward’s game: when the shots aren’t falling for him, he can impact the game in other ways. Last night, it was by utilizing his playmaking ability.
A true measure of a player is how much better they make their teammates. Hayward’s style of play can lift those around him to new levels. He is smart off the ball, making the correct cuts or setting pin downs to free up shooters.
A nice give-and-go between Hayward and Tatum here. Notice how as soon as Hayward returns the ball to Tatum, he sets the screen allowing Tatum to gain some room. This forces Collin Sexton to show as Tatum curls, but Daniel Theis tags Sexton which again allows Tatum to beat his man. Tatum goes on to finish the play for an easy dunk.
A rapid fire pass to Kemba Walker in transition catches the defense on their heels for an easy three points. The threat of Hayward driving or pulling up for a jump shot keeps the defense engaged on him while he is the ball handler, allowing Kemba time to get his feet set for the shot before Hayward makes the nice feed.
He was the pivot point for many attacking moves in this game, rarely making a bad decision in the process.
In both of these plays Hayward makes the quick pass again, each time resulting in a bucket. He sees plays developing and reacts quickly to keep the defense off balance which provides his teammate with a better opportunity to score.
The ball didn’t stick in his hands last night and the team as a whole reaped the benefits. Finishing the game as the assists leader is a nice reminder of his ability as a playmaker and when coupled with Kemba Walker, Boston becomes a fearsome prospect for any team to defend.
Now that Hayward's back, look for Stevens to continue to stagger Hayward and Walker's minutes as he did early. That gives Boston very few minutes without either of their best playmakers on the floor.— Keith Smith (@KeithSmithNBA) December 27, 2019
It’s not just on offense that Hayward made an impact though. His rebounding and defensive positioning were both solid throughout. On what was a good rebounding night for the Celtics (48 total rebounds for the game), Hayward was able to grab a respectable five.
Look how Hayward stays on the low help line, making himself available to either close out on the corner shooter or collapse into the paint. This is good weak side coverage and allows him to be in a solid rebounding position should Enes Kanter get boxed out by Tristan Thompson.
During the game Hayward spent roughly 9 minutes in direct man-to-man match ups, holding his man to a total of just seven points and forcing a turnover according to NBA Stats. It’s solid defense from Boston’s do-it-all wing who spent time guarding positions from point guard to power forward. That versatility is integral to the defensive scheme; the amount they switch on defense requires the wings to be comfortable guarding up or down the position on the floor.
No doubt there will be better games for Hayward moving forward as he overcomes the inevitable rust that comes from time off the court. He started the year playing at an All-Star level, and should reach that level again shortly provided he remains fit and healthy.
For now though, he is letting the game come to him and impacting it however he can. Last night it was by threading the needle. Tonight against Toronto, it might be dropping 20 or pulling down 10 boards. The point is Hayward can do it all.