By Alex Barth, 985TheSportsHub.com
The mold of the Celtics roster in their seven-plus years under Brad Stevens has been relatively consistent. They load up on smaller, quicker wings who can score from the perimeter or cut to the basket. Low-post size hasn’t seemed to be as high of a priority, and as a result their ability to rebound as a team has been inconsistent over that stretch. Since Stevens took over in 2013-14, their average team rebounding rank is 15th in the league, right in the middle of the pack.
For the most part, the Celtics have kept one big body on the roster to handle the glass. From Tyler Zeller to Amir Johnson to Aron Baynes, the role of rebounder seems to be primarily fall on a single player’s shoulders.
This year, it’s been Enes Kanter taking the reins in that spot. He’s led the team with 8.2 rebounds per game, which if he keeps up this pace would be the most by a Celtic in a season in five years. However, with Kanter out for the last four games, the team has had to look elsewhere for rebounding, and they’ve found it in an unlikely name.
It’s no secret Gordon Hayward has been on an offensive tear recently. But perhaps more impressive has been his effort on the glass over the last four games while Kanter is sidelined with a hip injury. Hayward’s rebounding totals during that run are 14 (the most he’s ever had in a game with the Celtics) vs. the Magic, six against the Pelicans, 9 in the road-trip finale in Miami, and most recently 8 against Golden State. That comes out to 9.3 rebounds per game, the most by any Celtics since Kanter went out.
“He’s always been a pretty good rebounder from the wing,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens told reporters after Thursday night’s win. “That’s got to be one of our strengths as a team. We’re not, we don’t have ‘fives’ that are traditional rebounders with Kanter out. So our wings really have to rebound for us. If we’re gonna have a chance to have success against teams like Philly on Saturday or teams that are bigger than us, we’re going to have to have our wings be great rebounders.”
Over the last few weeks, Hayward as been both as dominant and as consistent as we’ve seen since his traumatic ankle injury in the 2017 season opener. He’s playing like the well rounded player fans expected to see when he was given a max deal by Boston before the 2017. Since January 15th, the Butler product is averaging 20.1 points per game with 7.2 rebounds, while shooting 51.2% from the floor and 40% from deep. He’s scored at least 20 points in seven of those nine games.
Now without their leading scorer (Stevens announced Saturday morning Kemba Walker will miss the game vs. Philly with an ankle injury) and leading rebounder (Kanter), the Celtics will have to rely heavily on the 29-year-old Hayward as they look to hold their footing in a tightly contested Eastern Conference. The good news for Boston is if there ever was a time lean on Hayward, this is it.
Gordon Hayward and the Celtics take on the Philadelphia 76ers Saturday night at TD Garden, with tip-off scheduled for 8:30 p.m. Sean Grande and Cedric Maxwell have the call on 105.7 WROR, with pregame coverage starting at 8.
Alex Barth is a writer and digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Hate mail? Let him hear it on Twitter @RealAlexBarth or via email at Alexander.Barth@bbgi.com