Against the Raptors, Can the Celtics Afford to Let Gordon Hayward Soak up Minutes?

Gordon Hayward

Getty Gordon Hayward

Gordon Hayward is finally playing for the Boston Celtics this year, but it’s clear that he’s still recovering from that leg injury. The former All-Star has at times seemed flustered on the court, playing restricted minutes that don’t always turn up fruitful and lacking the ease in-game that he once had. He’s playing carefully and feeling things out as he returns from last year’s injury, but his progress may be too slow to be doing the Celtics any favors as they slog their way through a tough early season.

The Celtics have been experiencing something of a rude awakening in the East, and tonight they face the team that currently has the top spot. The Raptors’ acquisition of Kawhi Leonard has been pivotal in turning the post-LeBron Eastern Conference into an absolute war zone–something many Celtics players have admitted they weren’t quite prepared for.

“I think that coming into the season, we were all expecting that we would kind of just take over, and we’re very dangerous, and I feel like we’ve been humbled a little bit,” said Al Horford to The Athletic. “We’re in a position now that we have an opportunity to start building that, and we have to do it every night. If we’re able to do that, we’ll have a chance to be special, especially committing to the defensive end.”

This team went to the Eastern Conference Finals last season, and they did it without Irving or Hayward. Now that they have their two stars back, the team’s young core is learning to adjust to their weighty presence–especially as one of them recovers from the physically and psychologically traumatizing experience of nearly having his career end on national television.

If Not Hayward, Then Who?

There’s been talk of the possibility of Hayward coming off the bench as he continues to get his feel for the game back, and the star has been graciously open to it. Whether or not the Celtics will take that option remains to be seen. But against Kawhi Leonard and the Raptors, 10 points per game from Hayward probably isn’t going to cut it.

Marcus Morris is putting in a solid 14 points per game this season and has many of Hayward’s same skills plus confidence. He’s questionable for tonight with an illness, though, which doesn’t help the team’s immediate outlook against the Raptors. But as a future option putting Morris in the starting lineup might not be the worst idea to play with. What do the Celtics have to lose?

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