Celtics Hayward set for return to Utah

PHOENIX — The Boston Celtics take on the Phoenix Suns on Thursday, the third contest in their five-game road trip.

1. The Celtics will start their normal opening lineup, with Jayson Tatum, Gordon Hayward, Al Horford, Jaylen Brown and Kyrie Irving.

It was huge. After losing four straight, you kind of need that confidence going into Friday, Mitchell said. Obviously, its going to be a grind on Friday and were fully aware of that but we know we can do it. Thats the difference, we always know we can do it and we went out there and did it and weve got to continue to do it and not just be satisfied that we did it today, weve got to be able to do it Friday and on the road.

Hayward missed one back end of a back-to-back earlier this year, but he told ESPNs Tim Bontemps if he would miss one of the next two games, it wouldnt be his return to Utah. The Celtics play the Jazz on Friday.

The success of Mitchell has been part of the healing process for Jazz fans post-Hayward as he led Utah back to the Western Conference Semifinals during his rookie season. Before heading to Boston, Hayward was coming off his finest pro season yet, also leading Utah to the second round of the playoffs in 2016-17, where he averaged a career-high 21.9 points and 5.4 assists while becoming an All-Star.

Gordon Hayward is back in town for Fridays Jazz-Celtics game. Over a year later, has the sting of his departure subsided?

Gordon Hayward will play tonight against the Phoenix Suns. Unless he has a physical setback during tonights game, he also will play tomorrow in Utah. Hayward told me earlier this week if he could only play one of them, there was no way hed miss the Utah game.

I think there was a rivalry between Boston before that anyway and I kind of felt that so this just adds to it but were going to go out there and treat it the same way, Mitchell continued. Were not going to go out there and do something crazy. Were going to stay with what weve been doing, build off tonights win and be locked in and focused.

2. Brad Stevens was asked about Deandre Ayton — the Suns rookie big man who was picked No. 1 overall.

Utah snapped a four-game losing streak with Wednesdays 117-102 victory against the Dallas Mavericks, behind Donovan Mitchells 23 points, seven assists and five rebounds after returning from missing the previous contest with a left ankle sprain. The Jazz capitalized off Dallas 25 turnovers with 31 points while leading by as many as 26 on the night.

“Special talent, skilled, knows how to play, hes huge in there,” Stevens said. “Hes great rolling and ducking in, above the rim, but can also pass, skilled from the perimeter, a heck of a player. As you assume the first pick would be.”

Hayward is expected to make his much-anticipated return to Vivint Arena in Celtic green and white on Friday, when Utah hosts Boston at 7:30 p.m. However, that is barring any unforeseen health concerns following the second night of a back-to-back in Phoenix with the Celtics medical staff closely monitoring him.

“Weve played well, but in a lot of cases havent come close to playing a 48-minute game,” Stevens sad. “Weve been against two really good teams back-to-back, three including Milwaukee, where the most weve hit is in the high thirties, so our intent, focus, desire is to be a lot more complete moving forward.”

4. Phoenix coach Igor Kokoskov joked before the game that former Milwaukee Bucks coach Joe Prunty — an assistant on his staff — gave him all the tips to beat the Celtics. Prunty coached the Bucks last season when they pushed Boston to seven games.

5. Terry Rozier often plays 1-on-1 with Celtics assistant coach Jerome Allen pre-game for a point or two. Today, Rozier had Allen locked up, but Allen lofted a mid-range jumper over Rozier and through the net.

Theyve waited to scream, to boo, to chant, to let out all of their frustration that came from the infamous Fourth of July over a year ago.

On July 4, 2017, Hayward left Utah. He walked away from the franchise where he grew from a skilled kid from Indiana to an All-Star forward to head East. It was a day filled with early reports of his departure, then denials, before Hayward finally released his Thank you, Utah post on The Players Tribune announcing he was signing with Boston. Come Friday night, Jazz fans will likely have their own unique way of saying, Youre welcome.

The irony is that what looked like a mess at the time turned out just fine for the Jazz. Though Thabo Sefolosha was the Jazzs major small forward acquisition, Ingles stepped up for the starting small forward minutes. Donovan Mitchell turned out to be a revelation as a rookie, taking over Haywards scoring duties. The question still remains about what the Jazz could have done with Hayward in tow, or with assets acquired for him, but overall, things have turned out pretty well.

Donovan Mitchell smiled wide and then laughed after he was asked what he thought the crowd would be like for Haywards returns. He never played with Hayward, but hes been around long enough to know how Utah fans feel about him.

After he suffered a gruesome leg injury on opening night last season, however, Hayward couldnt suit up when the Celtics visited Salt Lake City in March. That means Fridays game will mark the All-Star forwards first appearance in Utah as a visiting player.

I dont know what to expect, to be honest, Mitchell said. Obviously, he did so much for this organization, for this state. Hes a great player. … We are just going to go out there and treat it the same way. We arent going to go out there and go crazy.

Boston Celtics star Kyrie Irving knows a thing or do about what its like to go back to the place where ones professional career began. So as Gordon Hayward prepares to do so, Uncle Drew used his personal experience to pass on advice to his teammate.

Hayward has been limited to playing just one game of back-to-backs this season, as he continues to recover from a gruesome leg injury he suffered in the first game of last season. Friday will be Bostons second game of a back-to-back. On Thursday, the Celtics announced that coach Brad Stevens assumes Gordon Hayward will play both games of this back-to-back, but that has not yet been decided.

We as an organization, me as a coach, our players appreciate the time he spent here and what he gave this organization and team, Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. It was a pleasure coaching him. He did a lot for us.

Twitter LogoCopy Link IconBoston CelticsKyrie Irving Gives Gordon Hayward Advice on Returning to Utah for 1st TimeKyle [email protected]@KyleNewportTwitter LogoFeatured ColumnistNovember 9, 2018 CommentsComment Bubble Icon

Its been some time since a number of Jazz players have even been in contact with Hayward, with some silences going all the way back to that day 16 months ago.

The Celtics are 12-3-1 ATS in their last 16 vs. NBA Northwest, 5-2 ATS in their last 7 vs. Western Conference and 2-8 ATS in their last 10 road games. The Jazz are 2-6 ATS in their last 8 home games, 1-5 ATS in their last 6 Friday games and 1-4 ATS in their last 5 games overall. The Celtics are 5-2 ATS in the last 7 meetings in Utah and 4-1 ATS in the last 5 meetings. Im sure the Celtics will be eager to get a victory for Gordon Hayward in his return to Utah, but Boston just played an overtime game last night that required them to come back from being down 22 points. You have to question how much the Celtics have left in the tank after a game like that. Oh, the Utah Jazz also have Donovan Mitchell back, and theyre a pretty good team at full strength. Ill lay the bucket with the home team.

Derrick Favors said he texted his former teammate soon after he made his decision, but hasnt contacted him since.

Rudy Gobert said he reached out to Hayward following his gruesome leg injury in the opening game of last season, but the moments of communicating with Hayward are few and far between.

I think it was important to do it, Gobert said. We dont talk a lot, but when its important, we do.

We are friends, Ingles said. Weve always been friends. Thats about it really. You talk to your friends sometimes and sometimes you dont. Hes got his own life and a family. Ive got my own life and a family.

“Gordon is a good guy,” Gobert said. “I think Im a good guy. It is the way it is. You make choices you think are good for you. Im not here to judge anyone. Its just a game. We are going to go play basketball and thats it.”

Jae Crowder was never a teammate to Hayward, but he has a strange connection to the former Jazzmans departure. On Jan. 3, 2017, Hayward and the Jazz faced off against Crowder and the Celtics in Boston. During that game, the Celtic fans cheered for Hayward. In Crowders mind, they may as well have booed him.

I heard the cheering (for Hayward) before the game, Crowder told reporters after that contest. I didnt like that at all. I think that was a sign of disrespect to me from the fans. That sparked a little fire in me.

“Probably a lot of emotion, fans cheering us on, Crowder said. Very, very, very, very into the game, obviously, with the ties they had with Gordon. I think there will be fans that will be very pleased with a win.”

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