With the Boston Celtics down two guards with Kemba Walker and Marcus Smart both sidelined with minor injuries, it offered up a unique opportunity of having someone else run the offense.
The Celtics turned to a natural facilitator in Gordon Hayward as the team’s point guard for stretches in Monday night’s 123-115 road win over the Atlanta Hawks and Hayward fit into the role quite well with the offense putting together a strong performance and shooting 53.3 percent from the floor.
Hayward, who netted 24 points on 9-of-16 shooting and dished out six assists, got his own usual offense by attacking the basket, knocking down fadeaway mid-range jumpers and canning open 3-pointers, but also looked to set up his teammates with regularity with the offense at his control.
“Usually we’ll have another guy out there that is a primary ball handler, but we wanted to try that, we wanted to see that,” said Celtics coach Brad Stevens.
For the 6-foot-7 Hayward, getting the assignment as the C’s de facto point guard didn’t change his mindset much as he is already an adept passer with a high basketball IQ, but there was one thing in particular Hayward had to adjust to and keep remembering.
“Definitely had to remind myself early on to come back and get the ball a little bit,” Hayward said.
Hayward had some help running the point from Brad Wanamaker, who tallied 16 points and five assists off the bench, and a little assistance from Tremont Waters, but when it was Hayward’s turn to assume point guard duties, he looked more than comfortable with the ball in his hands.
Benefitting the Celtics was Hayward’s decision-making. Late in the second quarter, he quickly noticed Grant Williams with a mismatch on Evan Turner down on the block and immediately got Williams the ball for an easy two.
Besides from some silky-smooth jumpers in the fourth quarter that kept the Hawks at bay, Hayward’s best play of the game came off of a pick-and-roll later in the frame with Williams. Williams is just barely starting his roll to the basket when Hayward leads him with a perfect, left-handed bounce pass that helps Williams get in-between two Atlanta defenders in the paint and finish through contact.
Those passes are nothing new from Hayward, who also notched at least 20 points for the fifth time in the last six games, as his versatility is a critical asset that can be utilized if the Celtics need a point guard in a pinch.
“It didn’t feel really too much different,” said Jaylen Brown of Hayward being at the point. “Gordon’s a good playmaker. So having the ball in his hands, that’s what he does. We were just playing off of each other and trying to find ways to be an efficient offense.”