I was of the opinion last year that a good portion of what made Gordon Hayward look out of sorts had little to do with Gordon Hayward.
Certainly there were bound to be inconsistencies in his game as he came back from a year out with the leg fracture, but there was more to a 2018-19 journey that could see him go for 30 points one game and eight the next. Too often Hayward was playing the right way with people who weren't. Too often he'd move the ball, make a cut and watch a teammate over-dribble and put up a contested shot.
"Yeah, if he gave the ball up, it wasn't coming back," said president of basketball operations Danny Ainge. "I mean, I think it was everybody trying to figure out like how they could earn their opportunities, and there wasn't enough to go around to feed everybody."
It was all part of the larger Shamrock malaise in which players who'd gotten to the conference finals without Hayward and Kyrie Irving believed themselves worthy of larger roles. There was little inclination or desire to be a cog in the great green wheel.
And now that there has been an alteration in Celtic attitude, Hayward's value is even more evident.
Brad Stevens and others are perfectly correct when they say the Celtics need to -- and can -- play better with what they have right now. But there is no getting past the effect Hayward's absence is having on the operation.
The Celtics are a plus-11.4 in offensive rating differential when he's on the floor and a plus-4.3 when he's not. Their effective field goal percentage is a team-best 54.8 percent with him in the game. And in the 11 games since he fractured his left hand in San Antonio, the Celts have gone from 113.1 points a game to 109.
Taking a step back from the analytics pages, there is simply less flow to the offense, even though the C's are still willingly sharing the ball.
"It's another option, another threat on the court," said Jaylen Brown. "That just helps us out when you have another person that (the opponent) has to respect, another person they have to guard.
"We can't wait to have him back."
Added Kemba Walker, "Just having that extra guy -- a guy that play in pick and roll, make plays, take pressure off everybody else -- is huge. And he was playing amazing before he got hurt, so, yeah, we can't wait for him to get back."
Hayward has been shooting and going through some non-contact drills with the team, and there is reasonable hope he may be able to beat the six-week timetable for his return.
Still, it's hard for the Celts not to feel for a guy that has suffered his setbacks.
"Sure," said Ainge. "You know, it's just life. Gordon's playing well. Thank goodness it's not a crazy serious injury that's going to keep him out for a really long time, because he's in great shape and playing really well. These things happen. You just have to keep rolling with them and hope that we can hold down the fort while he's getting healthy."
The Celtics have gone 7-4 without Hayward after their 7-1 start, and no doubt much of the difference lies in a tougher recent road schedule.
But Ainge believes a bigger challenge is ahead.
"The hardest part isn't really holding down the fort with Gordon out," he said. "It's that now guys have to do more things. Gordon's role has changed. His opportunities have changed, so you see all these things -- he's driving to the hole 15 times a game or whatever it is. Well, yeah, he just didn't get those opportunities last year. It wasn't just physical. But I do think physically he's better, mentally he's better, and his opportunity is greater.
"And that's the danger when you lose a guy for a sustained period of time. The biggest obstacle of overcoming Gordon is now other guys step up and their roles start changing. And then you've got to bring Gordon back in, and it goes back to where it was because he was playing so good. The guy's our most efficient player. But that's when it becomes more of a challenge, is when you're roles change when he leaves -- a guy that has been really good -- and someone else has to pick up the slack. Now he comes back and roles change again. Those are the difficult times, is when he comes back."
It's a "problem" the Celtics will welcome.