BOSTON – Gordon Hayward sat in front of his locker stall, both feet shin-deep in icy water with both knees receiving post-game treatments that involved them being heavily wrapped.
Kyrie Irving had delivered a super-sized double-double of 43 points and 11 assists which naturally, drew a lot of attention.
But the man getting dapped up by one teammate after another following the win was Hayward who delivered what was arguably his most complete game of the season in Boston's 123-116 overtime win against Toronto.
“It’s great to be able to see he’s getting comfortable,” Aron Baynes told NBC Sports Boston. “You can see it by the end of the game."
When Hayward plays like he did on Friday, it "takes some pressure off of Kyrie (Irving) as well, JT (Jayson Tatum), everyone, one through 15," Baynes said. "That’s what makes it fun with this team.”
And Hayward’s performance came against a Toronto (12-4) team that has been atop the Eastern Conference standings for most of this season, further validating this as a quality performance against a high-quality opponent.
Indeed, Hayward delivered a strong across-the-board performance for Boston (9-6), tallying 15 points on 4-for-8 shooting to go with five rebounds, five assists and four steals while logging a season-high 39 minutes.
We have seen Hayward put up similar numbers in terms of points, rebounds, assists and steals this season.
But the 39 minutes played?
This came as a surprise to many, with no one more shocked than Hayward.
The 39 minutes played included him on the floor for the entire five minute overtime session.
“I was wondering if they were going to take me out of the game at some point in (overtime),” Hayward said. “Happy that he left me in. It felt good to play that many minutes; it’s been a long time since I’ve done that so it’s a good confidence builder.”
You have to go back to March 31, 2017 for the last time Hayward, then with the Utah Jazz, played as many minutes as he did on Friday night.
That game was against Washington and similar to Friday’s outcome against Toronto, that was also a seven-point win for Hayward’s team.
One of the challenges for Hayward and the Celtics as a team in general, is figuring out the best way that all this talent can gel together and contribute in as positive a way as possible, to winning.
While Hayward is very much a work in progress, it’s clear that his greatest benefit to this team right now when it comes to winning, is being a playmaker who gets others involved while recognizing opportunities and taking advantage of those opportunities to get his own shots off and make plays for himself.
“He’s a good player,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens who also coached Hayward in college at Butler. “And there’s going to be a curve. I think that 15 (points) on eight shots is pretty good when you consider how much we’re asking him to handle the ball and make plays for others. But you know, I think he’s … I think he’s done a lot of things in the last couple of weeks where you can see those, those steps are being made.”
While Hayward’s return to his pre-injury form isn’t quite there yet, he's clearly trending in the right direction.
“He’s going to come around,” said Boston’s Marcus Morris. “It’s a long season. I was happy to see him getting it going a bit.”
And while his play in overtime was among the keys to Boston getting the win, Hayward came through in the closing seconds of regulation with a pair of free throws that tied the game up and would serve as the final points scored in regulation.
Being on the floor when the game was on the line, it's something Hayward hasn't done much of as a Celtic.
“It’s been a long time since I was in a situation like this,” Hayward acknowledged after the game. “Playing at the end of the game, with the crowd and the atmosphere and everything like that was amazing! That was a lot of fun. I’m glad that we came out on top.”
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