Kyrie Irving on Gordon Hayward: ‘He’s Playing Free’

BOSTON – The Boston Celtics thrived on the offensive end during their last two games, despite being without leading scorer Kyrie Irving. That, in large part, was thanks to Gordon Hayward, who strung together two of his most impressive games of the season, while helping the C’s average 114.5 points per game in a pair of blowout wins over the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Dallas Mavericks.

Against the Wolves Wednesday night, Hayward poured in a season-high 35 points on 14-of-18 shooting, including a 5-of-7 clip from 3-point range. He followed that up with a near-triple-double against the Mavs, tallying 16 points, 11 rebounds and 8 assists. In the two contests combined, he averaged 25.5 points, 6.5 assists and 6.0 rebounds per game, all while shooting 60.6 percent from the field, 46.2 percent from deep and 100 percent from the foul line.

Irving, who injured both eyes by being swiped across the face while going up for an offensive rebound against the Spurs on New Year’s Eve, was impressed by the way Hayward stepped up, and he believes it’s a sign of great things to come.

“He’s playing free,” a now fully-healed Irving said after Sunday afternoon’s practice in Brighton. “You want him keeping the same motivation, same intensity, and that’s who G is. We just want him to be aggressive on both ends of the floor, but offensively manage our offense and create opportunities for himself first, and then as he does that, the defense will kind of collapse on his drives as they’ve done so far. You’ve seen him come in the lane and be able to throw lobs and be able to throw great passes, but now when he’s scoring, he becomes that much of a bigger threat.”

Hayward hasn’t been this big of a threat since his days with the Jazz, prior to last year’s season-ending leg injury. Lately, he’s been able to score in a variety of ways, which has boosted his morale.

“Confidence-wise these last 2 games are going to be good for me,” Hayward said after Friday night’s well-rounded performance. “I definitely think I’ve done some things, these last two games, that I did a lot when I was in Utah. So, that’s a good sign.”

At the same time, Hayward feels that there is still room for improvement. He says he’s “not quite” back to the playing level he was at when he was an All-Star two seasons ago, but he believes he’ll return to that elite form eventually.

“For me, being aggressive and attacking the basket is something that I need to still work on and something that I did do a lot in Utah,” said Hayward. “I got to the line a lot and I think it’s a confidence thing, challenging people at the rim and just trusting my ankle and trusting my ability.”

Irving trusts that ability of Hayward as well. He believes that Hayward will continue to grow and be able to contribute to the Celtics in unique ways, and that over time the two of them will be able form a special, long-lasting chemistry.

“I think that us building the consistency of him coming in and being who he is, and when we’re playing together being the same way, that’s something that I’m looking forward to, not for just this year, but for a few years down the line.”

Hayward and Irving will look to continue to develop together Monday night at TD Garden, where a healed Irving will return to action against the Brooklyn Nets.

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