Hayward Dazzles with Historic and Career-Best Performance in Cleveland
CLEVELAND – Just over two years ago, Gordon Hayward was stuck to the Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse court after suffering a broken leg and a dislocated ankle.
Tuesday night, Hayward was stuck to the court for a different reason: he was downright unstoppable, and Brad Stevens couldn’t take him off of it.
Hayward performed at a historic level during Boston’s 119-113 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers. He became the first player since the inception of the 3-point line to shoot 16-for-16 from inside the arc, and the first player since Wilt Chamberlain in 1967 to shoot 16-for-16 on 2-pointers, according to Elias Sports Bureau.
That’s worth repeating: first player ever, and first player since Wilt.
Hayward laughed in response to that first note and said, “Seems like a pointless stat to me,” but this performance was anything but pointless. It was, as Kemba Walker called it, “nuts.”
It was also monumental, because it stands as the latest and most overwhelming evidence that Hayward is no longer the former All-Star who’s attempting to regain his old form. He is back, and believe it or not, he’s actually better than ever.
Hayward has never been better than he was Tuesday night in Cleveland. He matched his career high with 39 points while setting a new personal mark for made field goals with 17. Hayward also dished out a season-best and game-best eight assists to go along with seven rebounds. In comparison, his other 39-point game as a pro featured three fewer made field goals, three fewer assists, and four fewer rebounds.
“I think there’s obviously been more opportunities this year,” he said after the game, which was his third in six contests with at least 21 points. “We’re running some things that I am comfortable doing. As long as I keep attacking, not overthinking the game, being hesitative, I should be fine.”
He was fiiiiine Tuesday night, as he made the right play nearly every time he touched the ball.
Cleveland’s defensive game plan was to stick to Boston’s shooters and rollers, rather than to get the ball out of the hands of the ball handler. In many cases, that was Hayward.
This defensive tactic provided Hayward with consistent and high-quality driving and shooting lanes. He took advantage of those opportunities by painting an arc around the basket of made shots. He shot 9-for-9 on shots from eight to 13 feet, including two that came off of his patented plant-and-spin move.
“Just kinda taking advantage of my size in the paint,” Hayward said of those shots. “I think it’s something I can get to if I stay under control and poised in there. But certainly, around the rim there, kinda with different floaters and leaners, slow-steps, things like that, is something I’m pretty comfortable doing.”
Stevens has seen Hayward play to that comfort zone quite often of late, and not only in games.
“First of all, he’s got that great ability to hit the floater, but he can also stop and do the little fade, and he shoots that all the time in practice,” the coach said. “Today, that was where he was living mostly.”
Hayward was living his best life in the short mid-range, but what made him indefensible was that when that wasn’t open, he made the right play for his teammates. The majority of his eight assists came off of perfect reads when the defense committed to him rather than to taking away his teammates.
“They did eventually start trapping him,” Stevens commented. “He hit Rob (Williams) for a couple of those dunks, (Daniel) Theis a couple times. He played really well. Certainly, you always felt like you could get a bucket because of the way he was reading things today.”
The Celtics got bucket after bucket while riding Hayward all the way to the finish line. He was dominant, he was historic, and he was downright unstoppable in Cleveland.
Following the performance, Hayward had only one request. It was sent to his teammates, who continued their custom that dates back to last season of showering him with water following a big-time performance.
“Hopefully they can maybe stop dumping water on me, too, after every good game,” he said with a smile.
Truth be told, with the way he has played this season, highlighted by his career-best performance Tuesday night on the court where he was devastatingly injured, they might run out of water if they try to continue that tradition.