Celtics Lead

Hayward Can Revitalize Inconsistent Celtics

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The general sentiment around Boston heading into the stretch run is one of cautious optimism. The Celtics earned two much-needed victories over the Philadelphia 76ers and Detroit Pistons before the break, bringing hope to a team floundering in drama. Despite the hype around Philly’s new lineup, the absence of Kyrie, and the rumors of team chemistry issues, the team played admirable defense in both contests. Perhaps the best performance of the week came via Gordon Hayward, who scored 26 points on 8-11 shooting against Philadelphia.

Heading into the back-to-back, it appeared Anthony Davis‘s trade request and soap opera had done quite a number on the rising Celtics. Since the trade deadline, the franchise had squandered two huge leads over two different Los Angeles teams, resulting in two crushing losses. Marcus Morris also lambasted his team for playing selfishly, and Kyrie Irving dealt with a sprained knee that held him out of the two-game stint.

Compounding the panic was the impressive growth from each Eastern Conference rival post-deadline. The Bucks picked up sharpshooting forward Nikola Mirotic to offset Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s one weakness, the Raptors upgraded their center position with bruiser Marc Gasol, and the Sixers made arguably the biggest moves of the deadline, sacrificing depth for a near-All Star in Tobias Harris and then recouping that depth through other small deals.

Meanwhile, the Celtics made one trade… Jabari Bird, who is waiting for justice on his sexual assault allegations, was sent to the Atlanta Hawks for a heavily-protected second round pick that will likely never convey. While their chief competition improved noticeably, Boston effectively did nothing. This has some C’s fans confused and anxious.

However, Gordon Hayward‘s recent outbursts have shown that his revival, should it continue, could prove just as critical as any trade.

Is “Old G” Finally Returning?

Hayward has struggled all year while re-acclimating to the NBA. His season stats are concerning: 11.2 points per game, 43.8% shooting, 33.7% from deep. Efficient scoring has been Hayward’s calling card throughout his career, but without that signature skill– his value takes a huge hit. The Celtics have a much higher defensive rating with Hayward off the court, and the team is 4.7 points per 100 possessions worse when he’s on the floor. And while he showed out in a few games earlier this season — particularly against the Timberwolves — they were usually between stretches of bad basketball.

But over the last month, Hayward has started to look like a new (or is it old?) player. In February so far, Hayward has suddenly become a reliable marksman. The small forward has shot 57% from the field — well above his season average — and hit an impressive 52% of his threes. The somewhat consistent production is a positive sign. Hayward hasn’t always been great, as his 1-for-6 dud against Oklahoma City shows. But the good performances are starting to outweigh the bad.

Additionally, Hayward is growing as a playmaker and contributing off the ball at the same level he maintained pre-injury. The 28-year-old is posting 6.4 rebounds and 4.8 assists per 36 minutes– well above his career averages. On a bench that lacks ball movement, Hayward has done an excellent job facilitating in a point forward-type role.

How Much Do the Celtics Need Hayward?

When Gordon Hayward plays well, the Celtics thrive. In wins, he’s averaging nearly 13 points, four rebounds and four assists on impressive shooting (49% FG, 41% 3PT). When the Celtics lose, Hayward’s touch has been frigid (34% FG, 22% 3PT). His net rating is a +13 in wins and a -17 in losses. The contrast is stark.

Hayward may not reach the level of a consistent “Old G”. If he continues to make these strides, however, he’ll be a significant weapon off the bench for the Celtics. Hayward’s playmaking ability meshes well with the scoring prowess of Terry Rozier and Jaylen Brown. And a triumphant return could provide the morale boost that propels Boston out of this pre-All Star Break slump. “Trader” Danny Ainge may not have lived up to his persona this deadline, but Gordon Hayward’s return might be the Celtics’ big acquisition.

All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.

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About Ethan Fuller

Hailing from Portsmouth, NH, Ethan is a journalism student at Boston University and writes about the Celtics for TLSM. His chief basketball teams are the Celtics and Minnesota Timberwolves. Ethan is also a still-growing ultimate frisbee player.

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