Celtics

Robb: Celtics offense needs a shift in its hierarchy to rally against Heat

(Kevin Cox/Getty Images)

The return of Gordon Hayward to the court after a Grade 3 ankle sprain has gone well from a physical standpoint for the 30-year-old over the past two games.

Hayward averaged 30 minutes over Games 3 and 4, giving Brad Stevens the ability to essentially eliminate the minutes for everyone on his bench outside of a couple of minor stints for Rob Williams and Brad Wanamaker in Game 5. That type of improved depth and offensive firepower should have been a big boost for the C’s on both nights.

However, when it comes to the offense, Hayward hasn’t made much of an imprint just yet in the points column. He has not tried to rock the boat after a five-week absence and has been his usual unselfish self on the court, almost to a fault. Take a look at his usage compared to other members of the roster over the past two games against Miami with regular season ranks in brackets.

Tatum: 27.9 percent (1st)
Smart: 20.6 percent (5th)
Walker: 20.6 percent (2nd)
Brown: 20.5 percent (3rd)
Grant Williams: 17.4 percent
Wanamaker: 14.8 percent
Hayward: 14.3 percent (4th)

Hayward hasn’t exactly lit the world on fire from a shooting standpoint in his return (6/16 FG, 3/9 3pt) but that lack of volume is unacceptable for Boston’s $30 million man in the wake of his return to the court.

The underutilization of Hayward brings us to Stevens’ second problem. Marcus Smart’s usage. It was one thing for Smart to take a heavier shot load against a Raptors team that was playing a box-and-1 on Kemba Walker and was leaving Smart open for corner 3s on countless possessions.

With Boston’s roster back at full strength now, Smart is a clear-cut fifth-best scoring option now or at least he should be. He’s a low percentage shooter (41% FG, 31% 3-pt) in this series yet he has a higher usage rate than Brown (55% FG, 58% 3pt) against Miami and was even with Walker’s usage over the last two games. That can not happen if the C’s want to have a chance of matching Miami’s firepower.

After reviewing the film, it appears one of Erik Spoelstra’s Game 4 adjustments was to get Smart involved more. The Heat contested him less at the 3-point line and Bam Adebayo looked like he was coached to protect against Smart passes at the rim (leading to two fourth quarters turnovers by the point guard as Adebayo read his passes to Daniel Theis).

Smart’s final line in Game 4 (3/12 FG, 1/8 3pt, 10 points, 11 assists, four turnovers) shows a player that was a focal point of the C’s offense for much of the night, much to the satisfaction of Spoelstra. More shots for Smart meant less for Brown (14), Hayward (9) or Walker (14) and that’s a winning percentage play for Miami when they have multiple weak links defensively and can’t stop everything.

Once Smart got off to a cold shooting start, the Heat started giving Smart all kinds of rooms to get 3s up, baiting him into shooting more. Adebayo barely got out past the free throw line to contest Smart on his final and arguably worst missed 3 of the night, taken with 18 seconds left on the shot clock in a five-point game with 4:31 left.

With Boston’s small ball lineup on the court, any player on the floor can get a better shot than that with 18 seconds of clock to work with. Yet, Smart was content to believe that was as good of a look as the C’s were going to get on that possession.

With Hayward back and Brown’s superb efficiency against the Heat in this series, it’s time for Smart to take a back seat and embrace an even greater focus on the defensive end.

A simple solution for Brad Stevens to shift the tide on this front: Start Hayward over Smart in