That gruesome ankle injury that put Gordon Hayward through a grueling year of rehab forced him to adjust his game.
However he’s able to make it happen, the Boston Celtics are more than happy to have him making the significant impact they envisioned all along.
Hayward had a season-high 30 points and added nine rebounds and eight assists, helping the revived Celtics win their third straight game by staving off the Minnesota Timberwolves 118-109 on Saturday night.
With Kyrie Irving in command of their drive-and-kick offense and their typical well-rounded effort on defense, the Celtics picked up another quality win behind a breakout performance by Hayward.
Premium content for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
“It’s slowly coming along. I think my confidence is slowly coming back too,” Hayward said. “I’m still not where I want to be, but for sure me attacking is better for our team and not being hesitant or passive.”
Derrick Rose scored 26 points for the Timberwolves, who fell to 9-4 at home and 7-3 since trading All-Star Jimmy Butler. Karl-Anthony Towns had 20 points and nine rebounds and Robert Covington had 17 points and 10 rebounds for the Wolves, who allowed more than 103 points for the first time in eight games and saw their four-game winning streak stopped.
“They’re a great team, so they made us pay for those mistakes,” Towns said.
The signs of this game for Hayward were evident to the Celtics in practice three days prior, with his more aggressive mindset with the ball. His teammates playfully doused him with water as they walked by his postgame television interview afterward.
“This has not been easy for him, and all he’s done is grit his teeth and been a great teammate and worked hard,” coach Brad Stevens said. “I think there’s a lot to be said about that. The year didn’t start the way he wanted to. He’s not starting. But I think that he has helped set the example for what this team needs to be about.”
Hayward, who hit the 30-point mark for the first time since he scored 33 points for Utah on May 4, 2017, in the playoffs against Golden State, scored 11 of Boston’s final 15 points over the last 3 1/2 minutes of the game and made four of five shots from 3-point range.
Irving pitched in 21 points and nine assists, Jayson Tatum added 19 points and nine rebounds, and Marcus Morris had 16 points on 4-for-7 shooting from 3-point range for the Celtics. They lost eight of 12 games before starting their streak.
“Now we’re just playing. Gordon’s being Gordon now. Guys are competing on both ends of the floor,” Irving said.
After beating San Antonio by 39 points on Wednesday, the third-largest margin of victory in franchise history, the Wolves played just well enough to stay within striking distance the whole game and just lackluster enough to lose. Six of their 16 turnovers were traveling calls, part sloppy footwork and part bad luck.
“I don’t think we played with great energy,” Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau said.
Rose, who could find himself in a contest this spring with Hayward for the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year award, did his best to provide the energy and production off the bench. He opened the fourth quarter by sinking a mid-range jumper and hit a 3-pointer to bring the Wolves within 89-86. On their next possession, his bounce pass through traffic in the lane set up Gorgui Dieng for a three-point play and a tie game for the first time since early in the second quarter.
But after the Wolves were within 103-101 on Covington’s pair of free throws, Hayward took over.
“That’s a playoff-bound team. We’re trying to get back in the playoffs again, so games like that just test where you’re at,” Wolves forward Taj Gibson said. “We’ve got a couple more coming up, but that one still leaves a bad taste in your mouth.”
The Celtics are in the middle of a rough monthlong stretch of the schedule without consecutive home games and eight of 13 contests on the road. This visit to Minnesota, the night after playing at home in Boston, was already their eighth road game against a Western Conference team this season.
Celtics: Forward Jaylen Brown missed his third straight game because of a bruised lower back. He warmed up before tipoff but was ultimately still too sore to suit up. … Backup center Aron Baynes had five fouls in 16 minutes.
Timberwolves: After missing 17 of 18 shots, including all 10 of his 3-point attempts, against Chicago a week ago, Covington has gone 20 for 38 from the floor and 10 for 23 from 3-point range over the last three games. … Wiggins had 17 points on 5-for-12 shooting.
Celtics: Host New York on Thursday, after losing 117-109 at home just 10 days ago to the Knicks, who have the fifth-worst record in the NBA.
Timberwolves: Host Houston on Monday, the first of three matchups this season with the Rockets, who beat them 4-1 in the first-round playoff series last spring.