SALT LAKE CITY – Following the game, Gordon Hayward stood a few feet away from the locker room, chatting it up with onlookers young and not-so-young, an all too common ritual that he had done for years in this building.
That would be one of the few moments when everything seemed as it was.
Because for most of Friday’s game pitting his new team (Boston) against his old one (Utah), there was very little that seemed like old times for Hayward whose Celtics lost 123-115.
Hayward had 13 points and a season-high seven assists, doing so while playing in both games of a back-to-back set which is a first for him as he continues to get back to his old self after spending most of last season rehabbing from a left ankle injury suffered in the season-opener.
But there was little joy for Hayward on this night, one in which he was booed from the opening tip to his final missed shot by the Jazz fans who clearly haven’t quite gotten over Hayward’s decision to sign with the Celtics two summers ago instead of re-upping with the Jazz.
However, the return did allow him to spend some time with Jazz staff members and others in the area that he had befriended during his seven seasons with the team.
“Wish we would have won the game but it was good to see everybody,” Hayward said.
As far as the fans booing him incessantly, Hayward said he wasn’t surprised.
“It’s part of the game,” he said.
Marcus Morris has played against former teams in Houston, Detroit and Phoenix so he understood what Hayward was experiencing on Friday night.
He’s used to getting booed, but that paled in comparison to what Hayward went through on Friday night as some fans even began chanting, “WE DON’T WANT YOU!”
“They were on him tough,” said Morris who came off the Celtics bench to score 16 points. “I think he did well. That was expected so I know he went in there knowing something was coming. I think he handled it well. I just wish we could have got the win for him.”
Celtics head coach Brad Stevens echoed similar sentiments about how Hayward the night.
“It is what it is. One of the things that we knew coming in was that there was going to be a lot of emotion on their side, fans and everything else," Stevens said. "I thought that he did a lot of good things. Probably not the easiest position to be in but I thought he handled it well from a playing standpoint.”
And now, it’s over.
When Hayward returns to Utah next season, it won’t draw nearly as much attention or interest as it did tonight. It’ll become more about the game itself than the return of one of the franchise’s all-time leaders in a number of statistical categories.
For Hayward, it’ll be a chance to catch up and reminisce with some of the folks who in their own way, helped shape him into being the player and person he is now.
And that, win or lose, makes coming back something he’ll always look forward to.
“More than anything, I was looking forward to … I spent seven years here,” Hayward said. “I built some really great relationships. I was looking forward to seeing some of those people, maybe dreading just the hoopla of the whole thing. With my injury and everything it’s been a whole year. We’re focusing on our thing, and the Jazz are focusing on their thing, too.”
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