In the midst of an absurdly efficient and historic night for Gordon Hayward in which he went 9-for-9 from the floor and added a 3-for-3 mark from the free-throw line, there was one commonality.
All of Hayward’s attempts came from inside the 3-point arc.
Earlier this season while still trying to get his legs back underneath him after suffering a dislocated ankle and fractured tibia in his debut with the C’s over a year ago, Hayward lacked the explosiveness to get to the basket. His elite finishing touch around the rim that he became known for from his time with the Utah Jazz was absent.
But Hayward’s confidence has grown since the start of the season to give him the reassurance, especially over the past month and the latest stretch of games, that he can attack the basket like he used to along with mixing in his jumper.
It all added up for Hayward by scoring 21 points in a pivotal 117-97 road win over the Indiana Pacers Friday. According to Celtics stats, he became the first Celtics player to score 20-plus points on 100 percent shooting since Kevin McHale did so in 1986.
“He’s playing really well,” said Celtics coach Brad Stevens. “He’s attacking with great physicality. It’s good that he’s playing this way. He’ll have a lot of opportunities where he’ll make plays for himself, but more so for others.”
While Hayward has not taken a 3-point attempt in two other games this year, they didn’t yield the same results he got against the Pacers. On Feb. 3 against the Oklahoma City Thunder, he didn’t take any shots from beyond the arc and put up just three points in a dismal performance. Nearly three weeks after that against the Portland Trailblazers, he took no 3-point shots and the outcome was the same with another lackluster showing and just three points.
But this time around, coming off 13 free throw attempts against the Miami Heat, Hayward maintained his aggressiveness versus the Pacers by driving into the paint on numerous occasions and showing an ability to hang in the air before finishing in traffic.
Hayward has now reached double figures in seven straight games since returning from concussion protocol, shooting a stellar 40-for-68 (59 percent) from the floor over that span with only six of those 40 made shots being 3-pointers. It’s pretty obvious, but when Hayward’s attacking the basket, that’s when he’s at his best.
It seems Hayward’s determination to get to the basket had a trickle down effect. Jayson Tatum proved more aggressive, especially in the second quarter against the Pacers.
While Tatum didn’t shoot particularly well from deep going 1-for-5, he finished with a game-high 22 points. After not making a shot through the opening 12 minutes, hard drives by Tatum in the second quarter resulting in and-ones got him going before he banked in a shot off another trip through the lane, this time coming from the left wing.
Of course, Tatum added his ferocious, fourth-quarter slam dunk to give him a highlight reel play for the night. But for Tatum, it all started in the second quarter when he tried to make things happen by driving instead of settling for outside shots and showing off his Kobe moves.
And that’s the commonality, too. When Hayward and Tatum are attacking the basket with regularity, their games open up and they become that much better players and the Celtics become a much better team because of it.