Gordon Hayward was the best player on the floor during the Celtics’ 118-109 win over the Timberwolves on Saturday night.
That’s a sentence that I wasn’t sure I would be writing over the course of the 2018-19 regular season after watching the first quarter of this campaign. The 28-year-old had his moments over the first 22 games of the regular season but it was undoubtedly an uphill climb for him, particularly on the offensive end. The jump shot wasn’t there yet (29 percent from 3), forays into the paint were made with a pass-first mentality on many occasions and the burst just wasn’t back yet. There were glimpses here and there but much like the Celtics, Hayward had trouble putting it together over the course of 48 minutes. Whether or not his body would let him get there this year was a fair question to ponder.
Hayward’s offensive struggles did not stop him from doing the little things that helped the Celtics’ win on some nights. There were other nights when Hayward clearly did not have it, yet Brad Stevens still fed him crunch time minutes over arguably more deserving options. That mentality had faded in the last couple of weeks though with the Celtics hovering around the .500 mark. Hayward was sent to the bench and his crunch time minutes were no longer a guarantee on any given night.
Those parameters set the stage for Saturday night, in which the new-look starting five all were having solid games with the C’s clinging to a four-point lead with four minutes remaining over the Wolves. There was no obvious choice to send to the bench, but it didn’t matter. Hayward (30 points, 9 rebounds, 8 assists) needed to be on the floor during crunch time and he proved it with the best four minutes of his Celtic career, leading the visitors to a 118-109 win. Let's take an inside look at his impact on both ends that goes beyond the box score.