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Gordon Hayward makes immediate impact in Game 3 win

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Boston Celtics v Miami Heat - Game Three Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

Gordon Hayward’s Game 3 stat line doesn’t jump off the box score. He finished with six points, five rebounds, four assists, and made only two of his seven shots. However, the big number was Hayward’s 30 minutes. After missing basically the entire playoffs due to a Grade 3 ankle sprain suffered in Game 1 against the 76ers, Hayward was thrown back in the post-season fire and by all accounts, handled the Heat.

“It felt weird out there. It’s been four or five weeks since I’ve played basketball, so I think it was really fun to be back out there with the team, with the guys,” Hayward said. “I just tried to impact our team in winning ways with whatever I can do.”

Brad Stevens called Hayward “a stabilizing force for our team.” He didn’t expect to play Hayward as much as he did, but foul trouble to Marcus Smart and Daniel Theis forced his hand and Hayward responded.

“I thought he looked good. He asked to come out a couple of times,” Stevens said.

“I’m definitely not 100%. But it is what it is,” Hayward said after finishing with three steals and a block in a gritty defensive performance. “It’s the Eastern Conference Finals. I’m going to give us what I can.”

Hayward is Boston’s best playmaker between the free throw line and the top of the arc and it’s no surprise that his presence completely changed the outlook of the Celtics offense, particularly against Miami’s zone. According to ESPN Stats, Boston shot a paltry 30% in Games 1 and 2 against the Heat’s 2-3; on Saturday night, they nearly doubled their production at 59% to the tune of 60 paint points.

His teammates know just how much better they are with him on the floor. “Gordon was great. He gave us an extra body,” Jaylen Brown said. “He can make plays. He’s only going to continue to go up.” Jayson Tatum scoffed at the idea that they were somehow better without him.

“We’re so much better when he’s out there. We’re so much more dynamic and versatile with him,” Tatum said. “To have him back is everything.”

Juxtapose the often frustrating moments that marred Games 1 & 2 with how well the Celtics played with their best five on the floor. The lineup of Marcus Smart, Kemba Walker, Brown, Tatum, and Hayward shared the court for over six minutes in Game 3. They scored a whopping 26 points on 8-for-11 shooting (2-for-3 from behind the arc, 8-for-8 from the free throw line) for a net rating of 86.0 (162.5 Off Rtg, 76.5 Def Rtg).

After the game, Hayward also addressed potentially leaving the bubble for the birth of his son. Earlier in the game, ESPN’s Rachel Nichols reported that the Haywards’ plan is for Gordon to stay in the bubble after having unexpected family time during his rehab in Indianapolis.

“We discussed it, we prayed about it, and I think it’s probably best that I stay here and help our team,” Hayward said.

So, for now, Hayward and his playoff mustache stay in the bubble with a pivotal Game 4 looming on Wednesday. But first, there’s a well-deserved four-day break for him to get back up to speed.

“First five minutes, I was gassed. I’m extremely tired right now. My ankle is pretty sore,” Hayward said of his first stint in the game.

Rest up, G. You deserve it.