There are so many takeaways from the Boston Celtics’ blowout win over the Golden State Warriors, mostly about what it’ll take for Kyrie Irving’s squad to win consistently.
Perhaps the biggest of all is this: Gordon Hayward is the X-factor that could decide whether the Celts are contenders or pretenders this postseason.
Oh sure, it sounds obvious when Hayward dropped a season-high 30 points on the Dubs, with the forward missing just four shots all night.
But this the same Gordon Hayward who scored 26 points COMBINED in the past six games for Boston, and only one of those was a win.
Going into the 2018-19 season, Hayward was in the toughest position. The Celtics had come off a season in which they had gotten to a Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Finals without the injured Hayward, who suffered a gruesome broken ankle just minutes into his first game with his new franchise in 2017. That meant he was coming in this year well behind the eight ball — Jayson Tatum had established himself as the team’s second option, and Jaylen Brown and Marcus Morris needed their shots too.
Hayward came from a Utah Jazz team where he was the alpha, but there was also the fact that he was coming back from a traumatic injury. In Jackie MacMullan’s recent feature on Hayward for ESPN, there was one paragraph that stood out to me:
During his most discouraging days, Hayward recalls what Paul George confided to him: It took two full years before he could play freely, without residue of his own catastrophic open tibia fracture from 2014.
That partially explains Hayward’s up-and-down year and should remind everyone to be patient with the player who’s two seasons removed from 21.9 ppg.
The Celtics are 10-2 this season when Hayward scores 18 or more. Boston is locked in to either the No. 5 seed (6.5 games ahead of the Nets and Pistons) or, if they carry over their play from Tuesday night, they could make a run at No. 3 (three games behind the Pacers).
Yes, the Celtics are crowded — they need to keep Tatum and Brown happy as they continue to develop. Irving has to be the centerpiece. But it’s Hayward who might hold the keys to this team righting the ship.