When the season began, the Boston Celtics were poised to be the team to beat in the East. Last season they went seven games against LeBron and the Cavs and just missed getting into the finals. And they did it all without Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving. So this season, with the team’s two stars back and with LeBron out in L.A., it looked like the Celtics might just be the top team in the East.
But things have not gone according to plan. They are currently only fifth place in the East. How did this happen after getting Kyrie and Hayward back? Well, the truth is that while Kyrie did in fact come back full force, Hayward still isn’t the player he used to be.
Hayward is trying to be positive but his words don’t sound like those of a superstar. He says he’s trying focus on the fact that he is back out on the court and able to play. He is happy to be back playing basketball and trying to enjoy it. This is all well and good but not quite the attitude of a player who is taking his team to the finals.
Other Difficulties For Boston
Hayward underperforming is not the only reason that Boston is way down in fifth place. Hayward did not come back to the same Celtics team of early last season. With the absence of Hayward and Irving, some of the Celtics younger players really came into their own. Most notably, Jayson Tatum has emerged as a young star, with Jaylen Brown, and Terry Rozier following close behind.
So the dynamics of the team are a bit different now. Irving has been able to slide back into the mix and perform at a high level. In fact, he’s had an incredible season. Irving is averaging almost 24 points a game with about seven assists and almost two steals. There is no doubt that Irving is a major contributor. Hayward, on the other hand, is having more difficulty finding his role and proving his worth.
There have been moments when Boston fans thought the old Hayward was back. He’s had a few games where he’s scored 25 or 30 points. But there are also games in which he scored under 10 and he’s barely noticed on the court.
In interviews, Hayward seems to speak to a lack of confidence. He doesn’t feel like the old Hayward who knew what to do with the ball in his hands. But he’s also alluded to the fact that he isn’t getting as many looks as he used to. With so much talent on the floor for the Celtics, Hayward isn’t getting the ball as much as in the past. He’s now sharing the scoring duties with Irving, Tatum, and Brown, among others.
Basketball is a sport of rhythm so if Hayward isn’t finding his, he’s in big trouble.
Hayward’s New Role
Hayward is now coming off the bench for the Celtics. This something he hasn’t done since the 2012-2013 season. This can be a big adjustment as well. He’s no longer one of starting five at the beginning of each game. This clearly is a different role to play emotionally for someone who is used to being the star of the team.
Playing your way back from an injury isn’t easy for any player. And it’s taking Hayward a little bit longer than he was hoping. But in that time, the Celtics have grown into a very deep team. They have to turn things around quickly if they want to have a shot at the finals this year, but Hayward or no Hayward, they have a good group of guys going forward.