The 2018-19 NBA season presented Gordon Hayward with a challenge he had yet to face as a professional. After a year away from the game recovering from a severe ankle injury in his first game with the Celtics in 2017, Gordon set out to prove to himself and everyone around the league that he could recapture his All-Star form that made him such a prized acquisition in Boston.
Gordon’s efforts to get back to NBA shape began shortly after his surgery. However, the comeback officially started on the NBA’s opening night against the Philadelphia 76ers. Hayward played 24 minutes in the 105-87 win, notching 10 points, five rebounds and four steals.
Throughout the next few weeks, Gordon reacclimated himself to the speed and physicality of NBA action, and though it wasn’t always easy, he could feel his game coming together.
“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.”
Finally, in early December, Gordon had a breakout game against the Minnesota Timberwolves. On a cold night in Minneapolis, G-Time caught fire for the Celtics and turned in a 30-point performance, along with nine rebounds and eight assists in a 118-109 win. Gordon got to the foul line early and often by attacking the rim as well, and he took advantage, making all 10 of his free throw attempts that night in Minnesota.
That game showed his teammates and the rest of the league that he was well on his way back to being the player he was before the injury.
As the season progressed, high quality performances became more routine for Gordon as he and the Celtics hit their stride. The first of Hayward’s two double-doubles this season came at the beginning of the new year. On Jan. 4, 2019 G-Time scored 16 points with his season-high 11 rebounds in a 114-93 rout of the Dallas Mavericks.
By early February, the Celtics were rolling as they returned to Quicken Loans Arena, Gordon’s first trip back to Cleveland, where his injury had occurred over one year prior. During his return to Cleveland, G-Time scored 18 points with six rebounds and five assists. Hayward played 30 minutes during the 103-96 win, showing his progression.
When March rolled around, Gordon was playing his best basketball of the season. The Celtics traveled to Golden State for one of G’s best games of the season. Hayward led the team with 30 points in a resounding 128-95 victory over the two-time defending champs. G shot 2-for-2 from the free throw line, led the team with seven rebounds, tallied four assists and two steals. Gordon also led all players in the game in point differential. While he was on the court, the Cs were +32.
That victory truly displayed the depth of this Celtics team, with the team combining for 38 assists in a spectacular performance.
“It was fun tonight,” Hayward said. “We did have like, 38 assists or something? I mean that’s utilizing all of our weapons.”
Hayward scored double figures in 14 of the 16 games he played in from then on as the Celtics began gearing up for the playoffs. Boston finished the season strong, winning six of their final eight games to secure the No. 4 seed and homecourt advantage in their first-round series against the Indiana Pacers.
“It’s huge everyone made big time plays for us and we want to be playing the best we can be going into the playoffs,” Hayward said after defeating the Heat in April. “These are all games that feel like playoff games.”
Boston came ready to play against Indiana, coming away with a four-game sweep in the first round, though the series was quite competitive with each game decided by 10 points or less. Ultimately, the Celtics’ depth and experience helped them outlast a young Pacers lineup.
Gordon was a key contributor in each game, scoring in double figures in all four first-round games, but his best performance came in Game 4 to help close out the series.
Hayward scored 20 points and shot 77.8 percent, tying his second-best shooting performance of the season. The only game her performed better was against the Pacers just a few weeks earlier on April 5 at Indiana. G-Time shot 9-for-9 and made all three of his free throws. He racked up 21 points in that win to help earn them homecourt advantage against the Pacers.
After sweeping the Pacers 4-0 in the first round of the Eastern Conference Playoffs, the Cs took on the No. 1 team in the Eastern Conference, the Milwaukee Bucks. Hayward showed up strong in game one scoring 13 points with four rebounds and five assists as the Cs stole Game 1 in Milwaukee in a 112-90 rout. Unfortunately, Milwaukee, led by MVP-candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo, proved to be too tough in the series and rattled off four wins in a row to defeat the Celtics in five games.
Despite the disappointing end result to the season, falling short of an NBA Championship, Gordon proved a lot this season and has a lot to build on for his future with the Celtics.
“I’m not worried about the ankle or anything,” Hayward said. “I think that’s how I move forward is using this season as some motivation and some fuel and just looking forward to attacking it.”
Hayward’s progress on the court was apparent throughout this entire season. After getting readjusted to live NBA action during the first few months of the season, Gordon turned in an extremely efficient season. Excluding last season, Hayward boasted the third-best field goal percentage of his career this season, shooting over 46 percent.
Inside the arc, G-Time cleared the best 2-point shooting of his career at over 54 percent, and Gordon continued to thrive at the free throw line, shooting at an 83.4 percent clip.
Very few players across the NBA understand what Hayward went through dating back to opening night of the 2017-2018 season. The amount of obstacles thrown his way and the strength and determination it would take to overcome them remain a testament to his character. When Hayward signed in Boston, the expectation was for immediate results. The injury delayed his impact, but this season shows that Gordon will be a force in Boston for years to come.
With a full offseason to work on his craft, Gordon is confident that he will be even better next season.
“I’m certainly looking forward to this off-season and I think [Paul George’s comeback is] kind of the silver lining for me,” Hayward said. “Being able to go into it and just attack it and not have to worry about restrictions and kind of having some more freedom of what I want to get done and what I want to accomplish.”