A Return to Form for Gordon Hayward

DENVER, CO - NOVEMBER 5: Gordon Hayward (20) of the Boston Celtics drives as Aron Baynes (46) sets a pick on Malik Beasley (25) of the Denver Nuggets during the first half on Monday, November 5, 2018. The Denver Nuggets hosted the Boston Celtics at the Pepsi Center. (Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

On July 4th, 2017 Gordon Hayward signed with the Boston Celtics in hopes of bringing a championship. Just three months later in his first game as a Celtic, Hayward went down with a gruesome leg injury. After missing the entire 2017-18 season, 2018-19 was a mess not just for Hayward but for the entire Boston team. However, it now seems that Hayward has found his rhythm once again. If so, he could turn the Celtics into Eastern Conference contenders once again.

Gordon Hayward is Playing Like Himself Again

The Road to Recovery

As soon as the injury occurred in the first quarter on Oct. 17th, 2017, Celtics fans knew it would be a long journey. Not only did Hayward have to physically heal from the injury, but he also had to get into NBA shape afterward. The transition from crutches to running full speed versus the greatest athletes in the world is not an easy one.

Obviously, the 2017-18 season was lost to Hayward. Many set expectations of an All-Star level comeback the next season. In reality, though, last season was never going to be more than a rusty, jumbled mess for the former Butler Bulldog. Not only did he have to meld alongside a team with virtually no chemistry, but he had to do it quickly and at an elite level.

The Celtics had championship aspirations with Kyrie Irving and Al Horford at the helm. Adding a third star in Hayward was surely the missing piece, or so fans thought. However, history will show that expectations were set too high for a team that never really got their feet off the ground. Hayward was in a no-win situation of trying to patch holes in a sinking ship — while on one leg.

The Overture

Now, Hayward is in a picture-perfect situation. The Boston Celtics revamped their roster in the offseason to focus on their young core of Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Marcus Smart. They brought in Kemba Walker to assume the All-Star point guard role they have had for several years but lost key pieces in Horford, Aron Baynes, and Marcus Morris. The departure of Irving was a welcomed sight for both parties, and ultimately ushered in a new era of Celtics basketball.

Hayward no longer “has” to perform at an All-Star level to meet overinflated expectations. Instead of patching holes on a sinking ship, he is part of a crew building an entirely new vessel.

The whole team is going through a shift in chemistry, but the pieces seem to fit like a puzzle now instead of flat-earth inspired abstract art. While all other players are settling into their new roles, Hayward fits right in alongside them.

The Return of Gordon Hayward

Now, Hayward looks as good as ever. Of course, the sample size is still relatively small. The Celtics have played just six games on the season, but Hayward has been a shining light nearly every contest.

Against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Hayward tied his career-high with 39 points, shooting 17-for-20 along the way. He also added 8 assists and 7 rebounds in a six-point victory. On the season, Hayward is averaging 20.3 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 4.3 assists on nearly 57 percent shooting. He’s also knocking down 50 percent of his three-point attempts thus far. Hayward has scored in double-digits in every contest but one this season, when he scored 9 in a 23-point win over the New York Knicks while playing just 26 minutes. He’s hit the 20+ mark in three of six games this season as well.

Outside of pure stats, though, Hayward is playing like his old self according to the eye test. He is aggressive on both ends of the floor and no longer seems timid with the ball in his hands. He’s as explosive as ever and can be counted on to make the right play in any given situation.

This is the Hayward Celtics fans have been waiting for. If he can maintain his current pace, he could very well elevate the Celtics into Eastern Conference contenders much sooner than expected.

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