Well, that’s it. The Celtics officially closed out the decade with a win against Charlotte. There were some solid performances across the board with Jayson Tatum, Kemba Walker, and Gordon Hayward finishing the game with 20+ points each. There were also Enes Kanter’s double-double and six blocks in under 23 minutes.
However, it was Hayward that looked especially good. For all the issues he has had to start the season--first, with his broken hand and then the issues arising with his foot--it was pleasing to see him reach the level he was playing at before he sustained the freak injury in San Antonio earlier in the year.
He was doing it all in this one, probing the defense time and time again, making smart passes, grabbing boards, but most importantly, he was doing it all with confidence - a swagger if you will.
Then Hayward passed up a good shot for a great shot for Ojeleye. Hayward is doing a great job controlling this game right now. https://t.co/we7v8fDum8— Keith Smith (@KeithSmithNBA) December 31, 2019
Ending the night with a stat line of 21 points, 10 rebounds, and 6 assists, Hayward was everywhere. It’s also worth noting that five of his ten rebounds were on the offensive glass. Coming into this game, he only had ten for the season according to StatMuse.
This was his second offensive board of the night. He ran the floor well on the break and took an open position on the low block. When the shot comes off the rim, he is there to attempt the put back, no dice, so he gets the ball and feeds it back out to Kemba at the strong side slot.
His work on the glass was a much needed development for a team that was soundly beaten on the boards in their previous outing. For reference, Hayward, Kanter, and Tatum combined totaled the teams rebound numbers (31) from the entire game against Toronto on Saturday.
Rebounding was just one of the ways he influenced this game though. It would be a travesty not to look at his passing, pulling the strings like an NBA rendition of Geppetto.
So pretty. As Kemba comes off the pin from Semi Ojeleye, Daniel Theis fakes the tag and slips his defender as they rotate to deal with Kemba’s continued run. Hayward has been in the slot watching the play unfold and hits Theis as he seals his man with the pretty one-handed swing pass.
He had been setting them up for this one all night. That’s what great players do, set you up over a series of plays then strike when you bite too hard. Having cooked Charlotte from the mid-range all night, the defense panicked whenever Hayward drove into the teeth. Here at the top slot, he drives in with three or four small steps and gets the reaction he wants.
Terry Rozier sags off of Brad Wanamaker to help Dwayne Bacon. He does this by stunting on Hayward to apply pressure and force the ball out of his hands or cause a turnover. Rozier gets his wish, as Hayward feeds the ball to Wanamaker. Unfortunately for Rozier, he has left Wanamaker open in order to stunt onto Hayward to apply said pressure. The result is an open shot from deep, which Wanamaker converts.
Let’s look at how his mid-range game came to cause these sorts of reactions from the defense late in the game.
Having hit a couple of threes early in the game, the defense was focused on running guys off the line. Here, both defenders are focused on Kemba, allowing Hayward to make a ghost run into space around the free throw line. Kemba hits him with a nice pocket pass, Hayward is always looking to shoot from this area of the court so lets it fly. Bucket.
Then he does it again.
Curling off the baseline, Hayward gets open for a 16-foot fade away. Credit here should go to Theis first and foremost. His pin on the low block totally frees up Hayward to receive the nice pass from Smart. Hayward receives the ball and shoots in motion for an easy two points.
Then, he went back to the three point shot. Doing this keeps the defenses on their toes. They have to watch out for both the shot and the drive. Couple that with the fact Hayward can pick a pass anywhere on the court, he becomes almost unguardable when he plays like this. And he knew it.
If they sagged, he shot. Pushed up, he drove. If the defense collapsed, he kicked. It was smart decision after smart decision from him last night. He really is an embodiment of Brad Stevens out on the floor.He played like a max player and a player with a point to prove.
Through no fault of his own, we have yet to see the best of Hayward. That time feels like it’s coming through. For all the false starts he has had in Boston, this one feels like it could be legit. With All-Star voting now open, he has picked the perfect time to up his level of play. I for one will be adding him to my vote this weekend, because he deserves it.