SALT LAKE CITY — Boston Celtics forward Gordon Hayward returned to Utah to face the Jazz Friday night for the first time since leaving as a free agent two summers ago.
He didn’t exactly get a welcoming reception.
Hayward was introduced to a thunderous round of boos prior to the Celtics facing the Jazz at Vivint Smart Home Arena, in keeping with the way the hometown crowd here has received prior stars who departed under acrimonious circumstances.
The 28-year-old forward, who spent the first seven years of his career playing for the Jazz, was booed vociferously from the moment he emerged for Boston’s pregame layup lines, with fans unloading on him whenever he touched the ball – and then cheering when he missed.
Eventually, though, they grew tired of the routine — apparently deciding to save their acrimony for when the game started a short time later, when it again returned in full force whenever Hayward touched the ball.
While Hayward exchanged pleasantries with his three former teammates — Joe Ingles, Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert — and also fist-bumped his replacement as Utah’s star, Donovan Mitchell, before the game began, the Jazz wasted no time attacking him once it did.
Jazz head coach Quin Snyder called one pick-and-roll after another early on, repeatedly sending Gobert — one of the league’s best screeners — to put a body on Hayward. The result was an Ingles layup to open the scoring, as well as several other open looks.
Hayward, who didn’t speak to the media before the game, made his only shot attempt of the first quarter – a fast break layup he converted after corralling a long pass from Jayson Tatum, who started the play by blocking a shot – and also hit Al Horford with a nice pocket pass as he rolled to the rim on a pick-and-roll of his own for a basket.
The Jazz did nothing during the game to acknowledge Hayward’s return. Instead of doing what most teams do in this situation, and having a tribute video of some sort during the game to honor the returning player’s contributions to the franchise, Utah instead chose to release one doing so only on its official Twitter account during the afternoon.
Knowing what the reaction would be in the arena Friday night, the team, after much deliberation, determined that would be the best course of action. And, judging by both the reaction within the arena during the game, and to that tweet itself, there was some merit to their position.
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