Cavs were exactly what Gordon Hayward needed

Nick Friar
November 06, 2019 - 7:00 am
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After the win over the Knicks, Gordon Hayward acknowledged he’s been starting games slowly. He’s not alone, but it’s been more noticeable with Hayward, even though his major issue has been his tentativeness — as opposed to Jayson Tatum, who has tried to power his way through his shooting struggles early in games.

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Now, even though the Cavaliers made it interesting at the end of Boston’s 119-113 win, they’re still far from a good NBA team. (For a complete recap of the Celtics' win, click here.) The Celtics made some mistakes along the way, but what’s more important is Hayward did exactly what he was supposed to with this opportunity.

His 22 points, on 9 of 9 shooting, through the first two quarters are the most points Hayward has scored in the first half of a game in his NBA career. And Hayward didn’t exactly slow down in the second half, finishing with 39 points on 17-for-20 shooting to tie his career-high in points and set a career-high in shots made.

“He’s got that great ability to hit the floater, but he can also stop and do the little fade. He shoots that all the time in practice,” Brad Stevens told reporters in Cleveland. “Today, that’s where he was living mostly. . . He was really attacking. It was the right read to put those shots up. When (the defense) started coming to him, he dumped it off for dunks.”

All this performance means is Hayward took full advantage of the opportunity he had in front of him. He needs to assert himself at the start of games. That’s easier to do against the Cavs than most teams.

Going forward, Hayward needs to build off of this against Charlotte on Thursday. That doesn’t mean he needs to be better. Quite frankly, Hayward can’t do much better than he did on Tuesday. But he needs to continue to attack the paint like he did against the Cavs. This way, when the Celtics face the better opponents, he won’t hesitate to exploit the fact teams are sticking their third-best defenders on him — a mismatch he should expose of more often than not.

Lastly, there’s one stat Hayward needs to pull from this game. Not his points or field goal percentage. His eight assists. Hayward was aggressive, led the team in scoring and shots, but he still got his teammates involved often, and even led the Celtics in assists. Whether Hayward puts up those points and assists totals up against the Cavs or the Clippers, the combination shows he’s doing something right.

Hayward’s approach in Cleveland needs to be the one he takes every night.

“I feel like I attacked pretty well today,” Hayward said on NBC Sports Boston’s postgame show. “I got to keep having that mindset of just having to attack.”

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