Gordon Hayward Peaking at the Perfect Time

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He's back.  I started writing this blog before last night's game against the Pacers.  I was cautious at first when talking about Gordon Hayward's play as of late; using terms like "rounding into form" and "appears to be back."  I wasn't quite yet ready to make the declaration.  However, last night's performance has me convinced.

Photo courtesy of Yahoo! Sports
In a season full of peaks and valleys, Celtics fans have been desperately waiting for max-contract Hayward to emerge.

There was the 30-point outburst in Minnesota in December.  A strong stretch of games in early January highlighted by a 35-point game, once again against Minnesota.  Then, there was the strong play in February leading up to the All-Star break.  However, every step forward this season has been followed by a step back.

This time is different.

Of course, the numbers have looked good.  Hayward has posted double digit scoring in 11 of his last 12 games; scoring 15+ points in more than half of them.  He's shooting better than 50% from the floor since the start of March, and over 36% from three.  So yes, looking at the box score has been encouraging, but it's been more than just numbers as of late.

He just looks more comfortable.  The hesitation is gone.  He looks a bit faster, and is playing with much more aggression.  Hayward is getting out and running on fast breaks.  He's outrunning opponents to loose balls.  You can just sense that he's got a bit of his confidence and swagger back.

That confidence is leading to him attacking the rim more frequently - he's been to the free throw line 48 times in the past 12 games.  Instead of catching the ball, and waiting for something to develop, Hayward is already making his move towards the basket and catching the ball on the run.  Last night, he posted 21 points without attempting a single three-pointer.  He shot a perfect 9 of 9 from the field and 3 of 3 from the free throw line.  He's also finishing at the rim.

The return of Hayward couldn't have come at a better time.  As the Celtics begin the playoffs next week, having Hayward as a legitimate scoring threat will make a world of difference; especially in crunch time.

Before last night's game, Kyrie Irving was 13th in the league in fourth quarter scoring, averaging over six PPG. The next closest Celtic was Jaylen Brown with four per game, while Hayward has averaged less than three fourth quarter points per game this year.  That's going to change, and it already has started.

Hayward has not missed a shot in the fourth quarter in four consecutive games - and yes, he has attempted at least one fourth quarter shot in each of those games.  Three nights ago in Miami, he led the way with 11 fourth quarter points on 3 of 3 shooting.  Kyrie had just a single point, and Boston still won by 10.

In the last four games, a different Celtic has led the team in fourth quarter scoring each night.  Having that type of scoring balance will take a lot of pressure off of Irving, and will make the Celtics more difficult to guard in crunch time.

We all remember what it was like with Isaiah Thomas just a few seasons ago.  It would take monumental, individual fourth quarter performances from Thomas to lead the Celtics to victory.  The team didn't have another option, and relied way too heavily on IT.  They shouldn't have to do that with Kyrie this year.

They may look to Kyrie more often than not when in need of a basket, but knowing that Hayward is there will make a major difference.

People have been overly critical of Hayward this year; expecting him to return to form much sooner than he has.  Well, Hayward is showing now that it might just have been worth the wait.


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Boston Sports Syndicate: Gordon Hayward Peaking at the Perfect Time
Gordon Hayward Peaking at the Perfect Time
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