Gordon Hayward's next hurdle? Dunking on someone in a game

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BOSTON -- The shot-making isn’t where Gordon Hayward wants it to be, but he’s trending in the right direction on that front. The same holds true for his play-making, rebounding and defense.

What’s missing?

Finishing at the rim, something that was among the many strengths of Hayward’s game prior to the season-ending ankle injury he suffered in the Boston Celtics’ season-opener last season.

And by finishing at the rim, we’re not talking about driving into the lane for a lay-up.

We’re talking about the sneaky-good way Hayward would play above the rim and at times, finish with a dunk over whoever tried to go up with him - including the star of the Milwaukee Bucks, Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Antetokounmpo, the NBA’s runaway leader in dunks this season, was posterized a couple years ago by Hayward, who then was a member of the Utah Jazz.

And in the same game, Hayward threw one down over Milwaukee 7-footer Thon Maker.

The ability to play well above the rim has been evident since Hayward came into the league.

But this season, Hayward has had just five dunks total.

After a gruesome injury at the start of last season to his left ankle/leg, one could understand why Hayward might be hesitant to finish with authority at the rim just yet.

“There’s still some things I lack confidence on,” Hayward told NBC Sports Boston on the eve of tonight’s game between Boston and Milwaukee. “I think my leg is probably strong enough to do it. It’s just something that I have to go out there and experience it.”

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In Boston’s 118-109 win over Minnesota on Dec. 1, Hayward scored a season-high 30 points on 8-for-16 shooting.

Of his eight made field goals, only two came in the paint with one being a tip-in.

Hayward’s non tip-in basket at the rim against the Timberwolves, in past years, would have been a dunk due to how easily he blew past the defender to get into the paint and finish with the lay-up with less than two minutes remaining that put Boston ahead 111-103.

Hayward acknowledged getting more comfortable at finishing around the basket is the next great hurdle for him to overcome in his return to action.

“Feeling like I’m able and capable of attacking the rim and dunk on people and all the stuff I used to do,” Hayward said. “I think right now, I’m just hesitant. In this league, if you hesitate for half a second in the moment it’s over. So, that’s something I’m going to keep doing. I think I just have to go to the rim and if I get blocked I get blocked. That’ll only help me on the next one.”

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