Hayward Answers Irving’s Call with Aggressive Attack vs. Cavs

BOSTON – Rediscovering his confidence is half of the battle that Gordon Hayward faces as he continues his journey back from the leg injury that sidelined him for all of last season. He appeared to take a huge step forward in that department Friday night, as he displayed a level of offensive authority against the Cleveland Cavaliers that he hadn’t shown in quite a long time.

Hayward contributed 14 points toward the Celtics’ 128-95 win at TD Garden, and while it wasn’t his highest-scoring effort, it was certainly his most tenacious. The veteran wing was driving to the rim without hesitation, showing glimpses of his former self all through the night, as he helped guide the Celtics to their most lopsided win in more than three years.

What prompted the change in Hayward’s play was a spike in confidence, and the process of boosting that morale was a joint effort.

Hayward was approached by Kyrie Irving during practice Wednesday afternoon and received some constructive advice and encouragement.

“Looks for your shot more,” Irving told him. “Get aggressive and get yourself going because you are a great talent in this league and I don’t want you to forget that.”

Irving then relayed this message to the media the following afternoon, while also making a prediction about Hayward's play: “I think coming up in the next few games, he’ll be able to show some different things… just being more aggressive offensively and looking for his shot more.”

Sure enough, that’s exactly what happened the very next night inside TD Garden.

“And look at how much we won by,” Irving pointed out with an all-knowing shrug.

Hayward finished 6-of-9 from the field, including a 3-of-4 effort off of drives alone. Entering the game, he had averaged only 1.5 driving field goal attempts per game on a 41.4 percent shooting clip, so this was a giant step in the right direction.

Hayward’s aggressiveness also opened up opportunities for others around him, as he was able to drive and kick to his teammates throughout the night. He finished with four assists, while also garnering a plus-16 rating during 24 minutes of action.

The tone of Hayward's effort reflected that he had taken Irving’s advice to heart.

“Anytime you hear it from another teammate, especially a guy like Kyrie, it instills some confidence within you,” he said.

Watching that confidence emerge was something that Irving and the rest of the Celtics thoroughly enjoyed.

“I think that that right there was a happy moment, an exciting moment for all of us, because it was all in the flow of our offense,” said Irving, who dropped 29 points of his own Friday night. “It was all Gordon being Gordon, getting to the spots where he wanted to and being the player that he’s been over the course of his career as he’s improved over time. It’s our job to exude confidence in him, but it’s also his responsibility to bring that confidence within himself every night.”

Hayward says that it’s a lot easier to bring that confidence when his shot is falling consistently, and such has been the case of late. During his first 16 games, he shot just 38.9 percent from the field, but over his last four contests, his clip has skyrocketed to 51.4 percent.

“Sometimes it’s hard to be aggressive in looking for your shot if shots aren’t going in,” Hayward admitted. “I think the only way, though, is that you’ve got to keep shooting, you’ve got to keep attacking. I talked [Thursday] about getting to the free-throw line more – I did it one time tonight, so that’s a start – but I think just having more of an attacking mentality helped me out.”

It sure helped the Celtics out as well Friday night, as Hayward’s aggressiveness helped lead the team to its greatest offensive effort of the campaign.