Returning to the scene of the most frightening moment of his career, Gordon Hayward overcame some pre-game jitters to help the Boston Celtics extend their winning streak to five.
Playing at Quicken Loans Arena for the first time since he suffered a devastating leg injury there in the fall of 2017, Gordon got off to a hot start, scoring 10 first-half points. All told he logged over 30 minutes for the first time in a month, and made them count, tallying 18 points on 9-of-13 from the field while chipping in six rebounds, five assists, a block and a steal as the Celtics topped the Cavs 103-96.
“I told my wife I was a little anxious about it. Just sitting in my hotel room last night, just thinking about how everything changed, where I was sitting a year ago, from now,”Gordon said of his return to scene of the injury that cost him the entire 2017-18 season. “Just happy to try to find some perspective, and happy I was out there.”
With starters Kyrie Irving and Marcus Morris out, pushing others into starting roles, G-Time carried a heavier load off the bench in this one than he has since a Jan. 4 Celtics’ win against the Mavericks. But Gordon has also been earning more minutes over the last several games and is averaging 25.5 minutes-per-game in Celtics wins this season. Though he’s hit some bumps in the road to recovery, No. 20 believes he is getting faster, better, and stronger every game.
“I think with each game it gets better and better,” Hayward said about his strength and gameplay. “I think week-by-week too, month-by-month. I’ll say when we’re in May I’ll be a lot better than I am now.”
After coming off the bench midway through the quarter, Gordon wasted little time making an impact, knocking down a jumper with a shade over four minutes left in the first to knot the score at 18-18. He followed that with two more buckets, a pair of rebounds and an assist and his efforts were key in getting the shorthanded Celtics to the second quarter down by just two.
“Beautiful. He’s been struggling,” Celtics teammates Marcus Smart told reporters. “To come back to the place where it all started, to have a great game is something that sits in the back of your mind. We’re happy for him; we’re proud of him.”
G-Time added a couple more assists and another bucket early in the second quarter before heading to the bench five minutes into the frame. However, he was summoned back near the end of the half and helped Boston end the quarter on an 8-2 run, with a great drive to the basket for a floating bank shot, followed by a dime to Al Horford, who sank a three. Terry Rozier added another triple right before the halftime buzzer to put the Celtics in front by eight at the break.
Following No. 20’s return to the court midway through the third, Horford returned the favor from the second frame, dishing to Gordon for a dunk that put Boston back in front after a Cleveland run had briefly put the Cavs ahead. Later in the third, G-Time bookended an 11-3 Celtics run to seize control, with a pair of jumpers as he started to feel his shot come to him in the second half.
Boston led by six after three and after that lead was sliced in half by a Jordan Clarkson three moments into the fourth, Gordon answered with a drive to the bucket for a layup to make it a five-point contest. The Celtics led by at least three the rest of the way while G pitched in a few rebounds, a steal and an assist to help push them across the finish line.
“He was great tonight, both ends of the court,” Celtics coach Brad Steven said. “I thought his offensive play-making, passing the ball, was as good as his scoring.”
Gordon’s 18 points were the second-highest of any Celtics player against the Cavs. Jayson Tatum led the C’s with 25 points and seven rebounds. Tatum shot 100 percent from the free throw line against the Cavs, making all 12 of his attempts. Marcus Smart and Brad Wanamaker added a free throw each to close out a perfect 14-for-14 from the line as the Celtics made every one of their free throws in the win. And in a seven-point victory, that proved to be a key factor.
The depth of the Celtics was also on display once again Tuesday night. In addition to Tatums’s 25 points and Gordon’s 18, Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown finished with 17 and 13 points respectively. Even Al Horford, Terry Rozier and Brad Wanamaker were all just shot away from scoring double digits. Boston remains a threat at every position on the floor and are growing as a team, looking to make a push into the playoffs.
“I just think that we’re starting to understand how coach wants us to play,” Horford said about his team’s success this season. “We really have good ball movement and our defense continues to get better, so I just think that everything is starting to come together. It’s not where we want to be yet, but it’s pretty close.”
The Celtics currently own the longest winning streak in the NBA at five games, and they are one of three teams who have gone 9-1 in their last 10 games. The other two are the Milwaukee Bucks and the Golden State Warriors, both leading their respective conferences.
The C’s will return to their home floor on Thursday looking to extend their winning streak against LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers at the Garden. Tip-off is set for 8 p.m. ET and the game will air nationally on TNT.