Celtics

Celtics

Drives to the basket. 

Pull-up jumpers.

Rebounds followed by dribbling end-to-end for what ends in a bucket for himself or a teammate. 

That is the Gordon Hayward Boston Celtics fans saw prior to the NBA season being put on pause back in March, a player that looked, played and impacted the game in a way that served as a reminder to all just how big a difference-maker he can be on any given night. 

Which is why the Celtics remain cautiously optimistic about Hayward’s potential impact on the team as they gear up for their first game during the league’s re-start, against the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday.

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Boston’s three scrimmages were nothing more than glorified practices for Hayward and company, so there’s really nothing of significance to glean from them. 

But there was no ignoring that Hayward, at least in Boston’s last two regular season games before the NBA's stoppage of play, was delivering at an elite level despite the small sample size. In those two games, he averaged 25.5 points to go with 7.5 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.5 blocks while shooting 50 percent (19-for-38) from the field along with being just as lethal (7-for-14) from 3-point range. 

That strong finish came after what had been a solid season for the veteran forward.

The former All-Star has appeared in 45 games (all starts) this season, averaging 17.3 points, 6.5 rebounds and 4.1 assists while shooting 50.2 percent from the field and 39.2 percent from 3-point range. All of those numbers except for games played (He appeared in 72 games during the 2018-2019 season), are the best numbers Hayward has posted since becoming a Celtic.

 

But as we’ve seen from strong showings in limited doses by Hayward in the past, getting too high is a huge mistake if for no other reason than it creates a level of expectation that Hayward — at least thus far — has not shown the ability to maintain with any level of consistency. 

When Boston signed him in the summer of 2017, the thinking was he would be either option 1A or 1B for the team. But the departure of Kyrie Irving followed by the arrival of Kemba Walker and the unexpected growth of both Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown has left the 30-year-old Hayward in a very different role than what many had envisioned. 

He’s an important cog in the Celtics machine, for sure. But now it seems that Boston will lean on him more for his versatility than any particular individual strength. 

Hayward, like all of the players in Orlando, Fla., is adjusting to life in the Bubble. 

The 6-foot-8 forward recently blogged about his time there, discussing how much he misses his family, running into other players from other teams (“It’s almost like passing period in high school,” he said), all the different rules of the land.

And as expected, Hayward also talked about gaming, which has been a passion of his for quite some time. But Hayward knows all too well what most fans want to know about … the team.

“Right now we’re definitely deep in the process of finding our rhythm and finding our groove to get back to where we were,” Hayward wrote. “Each day it’s getting better. Obviously, I think everyone was a little bit rusty initially trying to work back into things. But so far, it’s been good. There have definitely been those moments where something clicks and it feels like it did back in March."

Hayward added, “With some of the play calls, once you do them and you watch them on film, you’re like, ‘Oh yeah, I remember this now. I got it.’ And you get back into that basketball mode. That’s a lot of fun.”

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The same could be said for Hayward putting together a string of consistent performances similar to what we saw from him in the final few games prior to the league’s stoppage of play. 

With Tatum and Walker drawing so much attention — with Brown not too far behind — there will be opportunities for Hayward to make a significant impact. 

 

Hayward has had a series of injuries during his time in Boston, but appears to be as healthy now as he has been since donning a Celtics uniform. His ability to avoid the injury bug will create the kind of matchup problems that Boston has to find a way to take advantage of on a night-in, night-out basis. 

Hayward’s knack for scoring from a number of spots on the floor along with his much-improved rebounding and underrated playmaking is exactly what the Celtics need from him during the season reboot. 

Because in the team’s quest to be the last team standing and bring Banner 18 to Boston, it’ll take the efforts of many to step their game up and deliver the kind of change needed to be successful. 

Hayward has the potential to be just that guy for Boston. 

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Bucks, which begins Friday at 5:30 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live followed by tip-off at 6:30 p.m. You can also stream on the MyTeams App.