MINNEAPOLIS – We’ve reached the point where Gordon Hayward is no longer just “getting better.” He’s now taking over and winning games for the Boston Celtics.
Just as they signed him to do.
Hayward’s season-best performance Saturday night in Minnesota was the latest installment in a series of efforts that have showcased his continued progression. He may not be back to 100 percent from his gruesome ankle injury, but he’s getting darn close.
Hayward piled up a game-high and season-high 30 points against Minnesota while tying or setting new season highs in both rebounds (nine) and assists (eight). He scored 16 points during the fourth quarter alone to stymie a comeback attempt by the Timberwolves and to help Boston close out a 118-109 victory.
“It was a great team win for us,” Hayward said after the game, “and as involved as I was, it felt really good.”
So, too, did the Gatorade shower he rightfully received from his teammates during his walk-off TV interview as they all celebrated the crowning moment of Hayward's comeback.
On the second night of a back-to-back, no less, Hayward became the first reserve in Celtics history to total at least 30 points, at least nine rebounds and at least eight assists in a single game. The performance prompted Kyrie Irving to make a strong statement in the postgame locker room: “Gordon is being Gordon now.”
In other words, he’s back, and that shouldn’t surprise anyone, seeing as clues to this rebirth have been piling up over the last week and a half.
Hayward scored what was a season-best of 19 points Nov. 21 against New York. He has now rattled off four double-digit scoring efforts in his last five appearances, averaging 15.8 points per game on 47.1 percent shooting during that span.
That’s the quantitative evidence that was building up in front of everyone’s eyes, but there was plenty of qualitative evidence as well.
First, there were Irving’s comments following Thursday’s practice.
“I think that coming out into the next few games,” he warned, “he’ll be able to show some different things than he has been [since] the start of the season.”
Then, there were Brad Stevens’ comments after Hayward scored 14 points during Friday’s win over Cleveland.
“He did have a really good week of practice,” Stevens revealed. “You could kind of see that there was gonna be some good days ahead here.”
Those days have arrived, thanks to a drastic change in Hayward’s approach.
Hayward had been drawing the ire of onlookers early in the season due to his passiveness and hesitancy with the ball. He wasn’t looking to score or to put the pressure on defenses. He lacked the confidence to do so.
Hayward told Celtics.com Saturday night that he made a conscious decision to erase those trends as he headed into Wednesday’s practice.
“I think just trying to change my mindset,” he said. “Just being aggressive. Being an attacker. That’s really all I can say about where it came from.”
Wherever it came from, it worked. Hayward’s aggressiveness led to him attempting a game-high 10 free throws against the Timberwolves, and he converted on all of them. To put that number into perspective, the Celtics entered Saturday night averaging 19.1 free throw attempts per game as a team this season.
Following Hayward’s final two freebies, which iced Boston’s win with 1:23 left on the clock, Hayward turned around to find Irving waking his way from the other end of the court. Irving’s head was shaking, his eyes were wide, and his lips were chirping. Irving said he told Hayward, “Way to take over the game and make shots.”
Irving nailed it. Hayward is no longer just getting better and working his way back. He’s now taking over games and leading Boston to momentous victories on the road.
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