It has been a wild first two-thirds of the season for the Boston Celtics. They currently sit at 37-21, which is good for a tie at fourth place in the Eastern Conference. 37-21 sounds good, but for anyone who’s been following this team, they know it’s been far from a smooth ride. From the crappy 9-9 start, to home losses to the lowly Knicks, Magic, and Suns, drama between Kyrie Irving and “the young guys”, the list has been never-ending for eye-brow raising moments. The Celtics’ season has been one of the most intriguing story-lines to follow during this NBA Season, albeit for maybe the wrong reasons.
Even with all these issues, I don’t believe anyone is realistically counting this team out on making a deep playoff run. There’s still a lot to look forward to as they prepare for the rest of the season. Kyrie Irving, despite all his drama, is in the midst of the best season of his career. Gordon Hayward looks like he may finally be ready to “turn the corner” and the Celtics entered the All-Star break with 2 straight wins, including a win at Philly (without Kyrie). Some people consider the 76ers to be the Eastern Conference favorite after their trade to acquire Tobias Harris. The Celts came back with a solid home-win the next night to illustrate a little consistency after the big Philly win, something they’ve struggled with throughout the season.
As we get ready to start the last 2 months of the season, the biggest story-line on the court is clearly Gordon Hayward. Let’s be fair to Gordon, anyone who thought he’d come into the 2018-2019 season and immediately flash his pre-injury athleticism and form would’ve been naive. It was always going to take him time to get back to even 90% of what he once was… never mind 100%. But at times during the season, the frustration with him has been warranted. We’ve seen him drop 30+ points twice. Both games came against the lowly T-Wolves. He’s had other very solid games, but they always seem to occur against bottom of the barrel teams like the Wolves, Cavs, and Knicks.
Hayward will go out and have a strong all-around game against one of these lower-echelon teams, then go out the next game and become invisible on the court (e.g. the Warriors game). The biggest hurdle that Celtics fans have been waiting for, other than a full-recovery from his injury (which we know may not happen this year…or ever), is to see him get over his inconsistency and step up his game against higher competition in the NBA.
If you paid attention to the last 3 games he played before the break, it should have opened your eyes. The Philly game in particular stands out. In a huge road game, that most people gave the Celtics no chance to win without Kyrie Irving, Hayward went out and lead the Celtics in scoring with 26 points. He shot the ball with extreme confidence, took the ball to the hoop aggressively (getting to the line 7 times) and resembled the Hayward of his pre-injury days. He then went out the next night and had another efficient game shooting 5/8 from the field with 18 points, 8 assists, and 5 boards against the Pistons in 34 minutes, a great sign to see in back-to-back nights.
He gave us the two things we’ve been waiting to see, consistency in a stretch of multiple games (he also led the Celtics in scoring in the collapse against the Clippers), and more importantly in my eyes, stepping his game up against maybe the Celtics’ biggest competition in the East (the 76ers).
This is the most excited I’ve been about Hayward since his debut in October of 2017. How he continues to progress throughout the rest of the season may not only determine the ceiling for this team, but may also impact the upcoming Free Agency decision that awaits Kyrie this summer.
I know I’ve been guilty of the fact that when I think of this team moving forward, I look at Kyrie+ Tatum or Anthony Davis, as the guys we ideally want to build around. I think at times we’ve almost forgot that we brought Gordon Hayward here to be an All-Star and the 2nd or 3rd best player on a team with championship aspirations.
Should Hayward continue to get back to his pre-injury form, it may force Kyrie to re-think his outlook on the Celtics future. It may also force Danny Ainge and the front-office to re-think their plans in the upcoming off-season for acquiring Anthony Davis. All of a sudden, with a Big 3 centered around Kyrie, a re-born Gordon Hayward, and budding superstar Jayson Tatum, the Celtics original plan prior to the Hayward injury, may have some life to it again….