How Hornets served a purpose for Gordon Hayward

Nick Friar
January 01, 2020 - 6:45 am

Jayson Tatum seems to enjoy every chance he gets against the Hornets. He was lights out in his 24-point performance on Tuesday, finishing 10-for-18 from the floor (4-for-7 from 3-point territory). He also had seven boards.

Listen to your team news NOW.

Although Tatum led the Celtics in scoring and Kemba Walker was Boston’s second-highest scorer (22 points) — and efficient in his second trip back to Charlotte (9-for-19 overall, 3-for-7 from deep) — the most significant performance in the 109-92 win over the Hornets belonged to Gordon Hayward. (For a complete recap of the Celtics' win, click here.)

His 21-point game was his first 20-point performance since November 7 — the game before he injured his hand. While the Hornets aren’t quite as bad as the Cavs — a team that has gotten Hayward on the right track twice this season — they’ve now lost six games in a row. Charlotte is struggling.

So Tuesday’s matchup was ideal for Hayward.

Jaylen Brown being sidelined due to illness meant Boston had to make up for the offense he normally provides. And with Marcus Smart still being a bit off (seven points on 3-for-13 shooting, 1-for-7 from deep), most of that responsibility fell on Hayward.

But at the very start of Tuesday’s game, Hayward was back to being passive. He was driving and kicking when it looked like he was about to have a quality look at the rim.

By the time the second quarter rolled around, Hayward started looking for his offense more frequently.

“He’s not going to force it usually,” Brad Stevens told reporters in Charlotte. “I think he got into the paint and made some plays. Got a couple of ones to go there in the first half and then (that) kind of opened the flood gates for him. … He made a lot of good plays today.”

Hayward still finished with six assists, making a solid bid at a triple-double (10 rebounds). He’s a good passer. That’s never going to be a problem for him. The issue is other teams know Hayward has great vision, too. If he doesn’t think shoot-first more often than not, they’re going to cheat — and make Hayward rather ineffective.

“I finally got a couple threes to go down,” Hayward said. “I found some rhythm out there, so that was important for me moving forward. Try to build off this one.”

For more Celtics and NBA coverage, be sure to subscribe to WEEI’s 5 Out podcast. The podcast is available on RADIO.COM, Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Stitcher and Spotify.