Celtics Lead

Hayward’s Return Already Paying Dividends for C’s

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Gordon Hayward entered the season playing his best basketball as a Celtic since joining them on July 4, 2017. His improvement is obvious in the box score, averaging seven more points, 2.5 more rebounds, and an all-around leap in efficiency from inside the arc and three-point land alike.

But really, it’s his explosion and confidence that has Hayward breaking out of the shell of himself that he was last season. And with the upgraded abilities in Boston’s young stars — Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum — the Celtics are suddenly right back in the conversation for making it out of the Eastern Conference come June.

On Nov. 9, that hype was brought to a halt. Hayward suffered a hand injury after running into a brick wall, otherwise known as LaMarcus Aldridge.

 

Head coach Brad Stevens initially reported it would take six weeks for Hayward to return to action. But just four weeks later, the 6-foot-8 forward was back on the court looking solid as ever.

And although Hayward is one of the most consistent scorers on the team as of late, it’s his playmaking ability that Boston missed the most in his absence. The Butler product’s ability as a ball handler in the pick and roll is instant offense.

Even still, the C’s have plenty of weapons in their starting lineup. So where will Hayward’s return really pay dividends? The answer is in the thick of games when Stevens begins his rotations. With Hayward sidelined, Jayson Tatum would traditionally be subbed out with around 5-6 minutes left in the first quarter. He would then habitually return towards the end of the opening period or early on in the second to pace the bench unit.

But asking Tatum to make up for the bench’s inability to score has proven to be too tall of a task at times for the 21-year-old. Boston ranks 29th in the league in bench scoring, squeezing a meager 27.5 points per game out of their backups. Hayward’s return allowed Coach Stevens to rotate Hayward and Tatum simultaneously, drastically enhancing their offense over the course of 48 minutes.

The other tandem of starters for Boston is Kemba Walker and Jaylen Brown. Both of these duos feature a solid playmaker (Walker and Hayward) paired with a primary scorer (Brown and Tatum).

And when they all unite to close games, the floodgates open. Boston boasts the fifth-best win percentage in clutch games at 66.7 percent, winning eight of their 12 clutch games. And they’ve posted this number while battling the injury bug early on in the season. Hayward’s return means so much more than an added 15-20 points a night. He solidifies the offense, and eases the pressure on everyone around him. That translates to wins, and the potential to beat anybody on any given night.

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