Last season was one to forget for pretty much everyone involved with the Boston Celtics' organization, but especially Gordon Hayward. Returning to the court after his horrific ankle injury, Hayward looked like a shell of himself. He was a step slow, never found his shot and was benched after just a few weeks.
If there was any silver lining, it was that he showed some signs of improvement down the stretch. That, coupled with a healthy summer spent training in Boston, had those around the Celtics excited about a potential bounce-back season for Hayward. Over the first few weeks of this new campaign, he's proving them right. It was fitting, then, that on Tuesday night in Cleveland, he had a breakout performance in the Celtics' 119-113 victory over the Cavaliers on the very same floor where his career nearly ended two seasons ago.
He made his first nine shots, finished 17-of-20 from the field and poured in 39 points, which was good for his best scoring game with the Celtics and tied a career-high. He added seven rebounds and eight assists for good measure, and sealed the win with a clutch offensive rebound and putback with 23 seconds left. This was, without a doubt, his best performance since arriving in Boston. (It was also a historic performance, as Hayward's 17-of-17 shooting on two-point shots is a feat only Wilt Chamberlain has ever matched.)
Did it help that Hayward was playing the Cavaliers and being guarded by the likes of Brandon Knight at times? Absolutely. But the Celtics played plenty of bad teams last season, and Hayward wasn't doing this. The most notable difference with Hayward this season is how much more fluid and dynamic he looks, and that was on full display in this game.
He was driving past his man and getting to his spots in the paint with ease, creating plenty of easy looks for himself and others. When he was at his best with the Jazz, this is how he played, using his strength and athleticism to force his way into the lane and make things happen.
And that's what's most encouraging for Hayward and the Celtics. This isn't a case of Hayward's stats catching everyone's attention because of a few hot shooting nights; he looks like the player everyone in Boston was so excited about signing a few summers ago. He's finishing inside, knocking down 3s and showing off his playmaking skills.
For the season, he's now averaging 20.3 points, 7.5 rebounds and 4.3 assists with shooting splits of 56.5/50/83.3, and his strong play is one of the main reasons the new-look Celtics have jumped out to a 5-1 start.
Yeah, I'm thinking Gordon Hayward is back.