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The quiet improvement of Gordon Hayward

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The Celtics lost in Brooklyn on Saturday night, but Gordon Hayward continues to progress as Boston heads into the playoffs.

NBA: Brooklyn Nets at Boston Celtics David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

After missing virtually all of last season, Gordon Hayward’s comeback hasn’t been easy. He’s been replaced as a starter, missed games with ankle sprains and soreness, and just when he was picking up steam, he lost a week to the NBA’s concussion protocol. But despite all the speed bumps on his road to recovery, Hayward is playing his best basketball with the Celtics prepping for a playoff run and could be a big part of just how long a post-season this will be.

There are many correlations to Hayward’s success and Boston’s winning games. The Celtics are 15-3 when Hayward scores 15 or more points. They’re 11-5 when he dishes out 5+ assists. Even though he’s technically coming off the bench, the former starter has regained some of his All-Star form. “I would even consider G a bench player. Obviously, he didn’t have the year he wanted, but he’s slowly but surely getting to where he needs to be,” Marcus Morris said of his teammate. “He seems more explosiveness, a lot more confident. He’s in a great place and we’re happy he’s playing well.”

Since the All Star break, he’s shooting a robust 51.7% from the field. His scoring might be a little down, but his efficiency has gone way up. Since January, his TS% has gone from 55.7% to 64.4% to 62.3% in March. He’s getting deeper in the paint on his drives and either drawing contact and trucking defenders or getting to the line.

“I think getting to the rim has been a lot better. I kind of have a little more burst. Still not all the way there, certainly finishing around the rim,” Hayward said after leading the Celtics in scoring with 19 on 7-for-12 shooting. “I had some buckets today that could have been, should have been dunks, but they’re just not there yet, but I think the threat of getting to the rim, being able to get to the cracks and creases a little bit has been better.”

In Utah, this is where Hayward lived. At 6’8, he was a dangerous playmaker in the mid-range able to hit rim runners with a pocket pass off the pick-and-roll, pull up from fifteen feet with a jumper, or outmuscle smaller defenders. “Certainly, it draws some attention from the defense. I think I’ve been able to get to the line a little bit more, too. When you get those paint touches, it’s good for everybody,” Hayward said.

Since the west coast road trip, Hayward’s minutes have been creeping up to 30 a night. More and more, Stevens is relying on his former Butler star and in the playoffs, stars are expected to perform. Teams will try and take away scorers like Kyrie Irving and Jayson Tatum and game plan against Al Horford. As series progress, a team’s 4th, 5th, and 6th options become more and more important. Games will be won in the margins and Hayward seems poised to be that x-factor heading into the post season.