He was three for seven, scored six points, dished out four assists, and corralled only one rebound in 20 minutes. Add in a ghastly -20 in the plus/minus, and it’s pretty safe to say that Gordon Hayward played his worst game of 2019 against the Miami HEAT.
The upshot is, Gordon has started off the new year pretty well. At least, compared to how this whole season has gone for him so far.
Hayward’s recovery has been a slow and grueling process this season. He is currently averaging 11.3 points, 3.6 assists and five rebounds a game so far this season. He hasn’t been much of a positive for the Celtics either, as they are minus-1.9 with him on the court overall in Net rating this season.
It’s understandable since he’s coming off of one of the most gruesome injuries in the history of professional sports. Still, with the team aiming for their eighteenth banner this season, the pressure on him to play like his old self will continue to mount as the season goes on.
We’ve seen little glimpses of the all-star that Hayward was back when he played for the Jazz. They’ve been few and far between though. At various times, Hayward has played a vital role in several games in the early going of the Celtics season. The first time we really saw the Hayward of old came on Dec. 1st against the Timberwolves.
Thirty points on eight-of-16 shooting including four-of-five from three, along with nine rebounds and eight assists were very encouraging. Hayward starred in stopping the red-hot Timberwolves in the fourth consecutive of what would be an eight-game winning streak. His performance excited just about everyone in Boston, including his teammates.
A game like this would usually signal a turning point, or at the very least be a performance to build off of. To the Celtics’ dismay, Hayward’s inspiring performance against Minnesota appeared to be only an anomaly. He never really came close to replicating the same performance for the rest of December, as he averaged 8.6 points, 3.5 assists and 3.8 rebounds per game.
The lowest point of Hayward’s season came on New Year’s Eve when he missed all six of his shots and put up a goose egg on the box score. Pretty much one month after looking like he was on the right track, Hayward’s performance looked nothing more than a fluke. Then, on Jan. 2nd, a familiar foe came to town.
Hayward yet again showed that there’s still hope for him yet. Thirty-five points on 14-of-18 shooting, including four-of-seven from three, as well as five assists showed that the old Hayward may not have been so far off after all. While this triggered a lot of, “Too bad he can’t play the Timberwolves every game”-like jokes on Twitter, perhaps this time, Hayward had turned the corner.
The expectation was not set at stringing up performances like those consistently, but at the very least, putting up better follow-up numbers following a great performance, which wasn’t the case the first time.
After his first outing against the Timberwolves, these were Hayward’s numbers over the next three games.
Against New York: Eight points on two-of-six shooting, six rebounds, four assists in 25 minutes
Against Chicago: Five points on two-of-nine shooting, five rebounds, six assists in 26 minutes
Against Atlanta: 19 points on seven-of-10 shooting, one rebound, five assists in 18 minutes
One week later, Hayward has not repeated the same performance that he put up against the Timberwolves. However, his numbers have actually looked considerably better following his second explosion against the Timberwolves compared to his first.
There are his numbers for Hayward over the next three games following his second outing against the Timberwolves.
Against Dallas: 16 points on six-of-15 shooting, 11 rebounds, and eight assists in 30 minutes
Against Brooklyn: 12 points on four-of-10 shooting, four rebounds, and two assists in 26 minutes
Against Indiana: 14 points on five-of-seven shooting, five rebounds, and four assists in 22 minutes
His numbers have definitely improved since the new year began. Better yet, Hayward is putting up more efficient statistics against better teams. Following his breakout game against the T-Wolves in December, he was up against three of the league’s worst teams. During this recent stretch following his second standout performance against Minny, he’s played against two teams currently vying for the playoffs – Dallas and Brooklyn – and one of the Celtics’ toughest competitors in the Eastern Conference – Indiana.
Hayward’s improved performances have come seemingly from playing an increased level of comfort in the Celtics’ offense. Coming into the season, Gordon arrived devoid of both his rhythm and explosiveness. Getting both of those aspects of his game back was going to take time. His rhythm is finally coming back to him, but his explosiveness is going to take a little longer.
What makes it harder is that Hayward is getting paid $30 million to be the highly skilled all-around All-Star he was in Utah just two years ago, and, through no fault of his own, he just can’t be that guy at the moment. It’s easy to forget that only two years ago, Hayward was in contention to make an all-NBA team.
The Celtics have only seen this Gordon Hayward in spurts. He’s not that guy – yet – but he’s getting better compared to where he was when he first started this season. Should he continue to improve following his most recent poor performance against the HEAT, it can finally be attributed to Hayward just having an off-night, rather than he’s still recovering.
At this point, the Celtics will take whatever they can get from Gordon. If he continues to show progress in his game, then that could make all the difference in Boston’s title hopes.
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