The Boston Celtics visited the Indiana Pacers last night to close out their season series in a game that held significant implications for the upcoming playoffs.
With their 117-97 victory last night, Boston not only clinched their season series against the Pacers (3 games to 1), they also stepped one inch closer to earning home court advantage in the first round. Boston needs only to win one of their two remaining games or for Indiana to lose one to make home court a done deal for round one.
More importantly, perhaps, was Gordon Hayward’s performance. Although all 9 of his attempts last night came within the three-point arc, he nailed every one of them. On top of a perfect shooting night, he scored 21 points and snagged four rebounds and a steal.
It’s been a long season for the Boston Celtics, who at just 48 wins are far from the team many fans anticipated them to be by this point in the year. I mean, seriously, they might not even break the 50 win mark. The blame has been tossed around a lot; some on Brad Stevens, plenty on Kyrie Irving and even a little bit on the young guys. But Hayward, who is still recovering in some regards to the terrible ankle injury that sidelined him all of last season, has received plenty of criticism for his slow return to form.
I wrote previously about Hayward’s return last month when he was finally showing signs of the player he used to be. Since then, Boston’s struggles have really only continued. They’ve probably figured out their problems and then forgot them a hundred times this season. But Hayward’s trajectory, for the most part, has been steadily on an upwards slope lately.
Since returning from the NBA’s concussion protocol, he’s scored double-digits in seven consecutive games. He’s been very aggressive, much to Coach Stevens’ pleasure, especially when driving to the basket on plays like this:
This is not an exaggeration: Hayward looks like Hayward. pic.twitter.com/65TiZEtTqD
— Marc D'Amico (@Marc_DAmico) April 6, 2019
Yup, that’s Gordon Hayward being Gordon Hayward. This is a bit of a game-changer for the postseason. Hayward is a wildcard who could completely change any series if he’s playing at any level close to his old self. Boston has won their last three straight games and is picking up momentum as they close out the season. If they win their next two and Philadelphia loses at least two of their final three, Boston owns the tiebreakers that would jump them into the third seed in the East.
Hayward could be the guy that helps them get there. He can’t do anything to help Philly lose, but he can sure as hell do everything he can to put Boston in the necessary position to leapfrog them if the circumstances arise. Finally, Hayward is back.