Gordon Hayward has been waiting for this opportunity for a long time.
Sunday afternoon will be Hayward's first playoff game as a member of the Celtics. Ahead of Game 1 against the Pacers, he penned a blog post Friday and discussed the highs and lows of the regular season while also talking about expectations he's set for himself in the postseason.
"Personally, I feel like I'm peaking at the right time," Hayward said. "It's been a slow build up process throughout the year, and I've been through a lot of continual exercises that are still going on. There's this perception that when a player comes back from an injury, the rehab and recovery is over. But that's not how it works. I'm still doing rehab every day. I'm still trying to do stuff to strengthen my ankle and continue to get my proprioception back.
"I certainly feel a lot more confident than I did in September/October or even January/February."
Hayward goes on to highlight his recent performance against the Heat as his favorite night of the regular season. While others may assume one of the 30-point performances against the Timberwolves or scoring 30 against the champion Warriors was his favorite, Hayward's 25-point game in Miami is the Celtics forward's game of the year because of his 12-of-13 attempts from the free-throw line.
For Hayward, it was the peak of the regular season.
"That game was a much better barometer for where I am and how far I've come," Hayward said. "The main reason I say that is because of how many times I was able to get to the line in that game. That's always been a huge part of my game, but at the beginning of the year, I wasn't doing that as much. Part of it was my ankle and not trusting it, and part of it was just having a year off from basketball and getting out of the mindset of attacking and getting to the rim.
"Getting to the line kind of opens up the rest of my game for me and gets me in rhythm. It also allows me to get a breather and just kind of relax there at the free throw line, get some easy points and then go from there."
Hayward plans to be a difference-maker in the playoffs. Not necessarily from a statistical standpoint, but instead, making an impact on both ends of the floor.
"As for the postseason, what I expect from myself is to continue to make winning plays for our team," Hayward said. "And I think that can mean a lot of different things. Throughout this year, I've tried to avoid the stat sheets, good and bad. I'm not focused on having high numbers, because with how our team is set up, it's not always going to be the case that I get those numbers. But I can certainly always make winning plays. That's being in the right spot defensively, making the right plays on the offensive end, even if it's the hockey assist or creating the right spacing so somebody else can attack and get to the rim without my defender being able to come help.
"Those things don't necessarily always show up, but they help your team win and that's what I expect of myself. I'm going to stay aggressive, get in the lane and get to the rim, making plays happen and try to get to the line, but ultimately, it's about making the winning plays."