Jayson Tatum may have gotten the Celtics over the hump in the overtime win, but it was The Gordon Hayward Show that kept the team afloat entire game. Hayward finished the game with 31 points, 9 rebounds, and 5 assists and had his rhythm all night long. Since this restart back in the bubble, Hayward has been playing some of his best basketball as a Celtic. It is a great reminder how dangerous this Celtics team can be.
“Our team is at its best when I’m aggressive and attacking. It opens the court for everyone else,” Hayward said after his game. Hayward set the tone early against the Magic finding the mismatch against the bigger Nikola Vucevic and finishing strong at the rim.
This Celtics team really does play better when Hayward joins the others in being aggressive on the offensive end of the court. It also elevates his own personal game to the highest level he can get to. He takes over the court and finds a way to score. This is the style of play that reminds everyone of the Utah days and why he earned his max contract deal.
The versatility in his game on offense is really shown off when Hayward puts on a performance like this one. He scored from in the paint, mid-range, and from three. Hayward always has his patented pull up mid-range jumper around the free throw line, but it is when he goes outside of that to score where his game goes to another level. Of the 31 points in this game, only 6 were score from two three-pointers, Ten points were scored from pull-up mid-range jumpers, 10 inside the paint, and 5 points off free throws. This is the wide ranging ability of Hayward to score at all levels.
Hayward really was sharp around the edges in this game, but it didn’t just stop with his scoring. He added 9 rebounds and 5 assists to his box score as well. His distribution opened up the spacing for this offense to fire on all cylinders. When a wing can create the attention because of his hot hand, it will shade over defenders leaving room on the floor for off-ball action.
Hayward gets the ball on the wing and is surrounded by three defenders as he looks to drive into the paint. Tatum has the high IQ to continue his run all the way around to where Hayward can find him behind the three-point line for an open three. It is Hayward’s quick step after the pump fake from three that has the defenders collapse on him. If he was not playing with that much aggressiveness earlier in the game, it may have been a different story with their defense.
Hayward played 39 minutes in this one, and his impact was greatly felt on the offensive end in the way he fed off of high-screens set by Daniel Theis or Enes Kanter. He generally has a mindset that is all about facilitating the game until he has to go into attack mode himself Last night was one of those occasions.
Gordon Hayward will be one of the biggest X-factors in how deep the Celtics will go into the playoffs. When Hayward is at the peak of his game, he attacks the rim with this aggressiveness. Additionally, he sets up his team to make the other shots the Celtics need to win the game. Sometime in the near future, Hayward will miss some time with the birth of his son. The Celtics will have to survive that loss for the few days he is missing since he is really playing at an elite level in the bubble. If Hayward continues to play at this high level in the bubble, pre and post baby, the Celtics can reach that ceiling everyone has expected from them.
P.S. If you need some happiness for your Monday, Hayward’s daughters were tracking his stats throughout yesterday’s game: