Gordon Hayward punctuates his return home with a sweep of Pacers


INDIANAPOLIS -- Before tip-off, Gordon Hayward had a chance to spend some time with his wife Robyn and their daughters who were happy both with seeing daddy play and the chocolate bunnies they received for Easter. 

They were just a small part of the large caravan of family, friends and supporters in the building for Hayward, dating back to his time as a basketball/tennis star at Brownsburg (Ind.) High School which is just a half hour drive down Interstate-65 to the Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. 

Hayward was home in every sense of the word on Sunday, and that comfort level on the basketball floor would prove to be just what the Celtics needed to pull away from the Indiana Pacers and put this series on ice in what turned out to be just the sixth sweep of a seven game series in franchise history. 

It was Hayward leading the charge for Boston which pulled away in the second half for a 110-106 Game 4 win.

He would lead the Celtics with 20 points off the bench, doing so on a ridiculously efficient 7-for-9 shooting which also factored into him having a team-best plus/minus of +13. 

“This is his city,” said Boston’s Kyrie Irving. “And I’m glad he had the chance to put on a performance like that in a close-out game.”

But it wasn’t just the shot-making by Hayward that stood out. 

He played with a heightened level of aggressiveness that gave the Pacers fits, whether it was driving to the basket for a dunk, using his dribble-drive game to create space for a mid-range jumper, passing to a teammate who was open due to the attention he or Kyrie Irving were drawing, or him just being physical with Indiana’s players defensively. 

It was the kind of performance that the Celtics have felt Hayward was more than capable of having prior to him suffering a season-ending injury in 2017.

The road back from that injury has been a rocky one filled with ups and downs along with trials, tribulations and triumphs.

But on a night like this, one in which the Celtics got out of the first round of the playoffs for the fourth straight season, all of those long days and nights for Hayward not knowing when if at all he would resemble his pre-injury self, paid off when it mattered. 

“It’s been a long process to get back to where he probably feels as good as he does now,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens who also coached Hayward at nearby Butler University. “And we knew that going in, 20, 40, 60, 80 (games) … every 20 games is going to be a little bit better.”

And while he has had higher scoring games as a Celtic, you would be hard-pressed to find one with the stakes as high as they were on Sunday and him delivering the way that he did all game.

Hayward was particularly good in the latter stages of the game, scoring nine of his 20 points in the fourth quarter.

“He was big at the end of the game tonight, for sure,” Stevens said. 

Actually, Hayward’s performance was a reminder of sorts as to what he delivered shooting-wise in the latter stages of the regular season. 

In the month of February, Hayward averaged 11.9 points while shooting 51.3 percent from the field. 

Pretty good … until March rolled around and he kept his scoring average steady (11.8 points per game) but improved his shot-making by connecting on 55.6 percent of his shots, only to be outdone by April when he resembled all-star Gordon Hayward by averaging 18.3 points while drained 65.0 percent of his shot attempts.

On the rise, indeed.

And that work on Hayward’s part towards improvement reached its zenith on Sunday with the 29-year-old coming through in a big way on the biggest stage of the season. 

The fact that he did so in front of so many family, friends and supporters was not lost on Hayward.

But the game was particularly special to Hayward because he was able to share that moment with his wife and their daughters. 

“Seeing them before the game … was amazing,” said a beaming Hayward after the Celtics win. “I know that they don’t necessarily know what’s going on. They probably don’t care that we swept the Pacers. They were happy they got some chocolate bunnies this morning and they got a chance to see me out on the court.”

Indeed, Hayward was home in every sense of the word. 

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