Early in the season, the Boston Celtics thought they hit rock bottom. At least, that’s what Kyrie Irving told the media.
They were 11-10 at the time — far from the team they thought they’d be — and were already disappointing both the fans and themselves. The season was early, but after a frustrating start, Irving said the Celtics had “no more time to waste.”
That was back in November. Since then, they’ve wasted away much more than time. The locker room wasn’t meshing, Kyrie was trashing teammates to the media, trade rumors started flurrying, Gordon Hayward still wasn’t playing up to speed and, worst of all, they still weren’t winning.
By the beginning of March, the team had lost four of their last five and were sitting behind Milwaukee, Toronto,Philly and Indiana in the Eastern Conference standings. To make matters worse, they looked ahead to a tough road trip; a stretch that would start with none other than Golden State Warriors, the Monstars of the West.
The team needed something to spark life into their dying season. Per reports, they found exactly that on a lengthy flight to Oakland. They didn’t just throw on their headphones, mind their business or play some cards. They actually hung out. They talked to each other. Against Golden State, they actually had fun.
Whatever else happened on that flight, it changed something about this Celtics team. They didn’t just beat the Warriors — they wholloped them. They then beat the sneaky-good Kings, and then the debilitated-but-still-sort-of-not-tanking Los Angeles Lakers.
The biggest difference, besides the good vibes, has been Gordon Hayward.
The former All-Star forward has spent most of the season returning to form after a devastating leg injury in last year’s opener. He showed flashes of his former-self every once in a while, but has never actually looked comfortable on the court. Finally, with three stellar, efficient outings, the optics are good.
In the last three games, Hayward posted 30 points against Golden State, 12 in Sacramento (including the game-winner) and 15 in L.A. But more importantly, he’s been stepping into shots and nailing them at an average field-goal percentage of 70 percent.
According to The Athletic’s Jay King, Hayward’s progress has steadily improved all-season long, even if optically it hasn’t. Here’s Hayward’s shooting percentages in each month since December:
Gordon Hayward shooting percentage…
March (entering tonight): 60.0%
He has 13 points on 5-for-6 shooting tonight.
— Jay King (@ByJayKing) March 10, 2019
If those numbers don’t jump out at you, try these instead:
- When Hayward sinks at least half of his shots the Celtics are 20-2
- When he shoots at least 10 times, they’re 18-6
- When he scores 12 points or more, they’re 21-4
So, an aggressive Hayward is a good thing for Boston, especially if Kyrie Irving is out of the lineup or struggling. Of course, it’s even better when neither of those things are happening. On those nights, the Celtics are tough to beat for any team. If Hayward is finally comfortable being an aggressor on offense, those numbers signal a bright future for Boston.
Kyrie Irving was wrong when he said they’d hit rock bottom in November — it was just part of a slow spiral that lasted all the way until March. They didn’t just hit rock bottom, they collided with it. At least, he better hope they did, because it’s exactly like he once said: with just 15 games remaining, “there’s no more time to waste.”