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Jazz spoil Gordon Hayward’s return to Utah, beat Boston Celtics 123-115

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Gordon Hayward made his return to Salt Lake City tonight, but the Celtics couldn’t make it a winning homecoming.

Boston Celtics v Phoenix Suns Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

It may have come a year later than anyone expected, but it finally happened: Gordon Hayward made his return to Salt Lake City for the first time since spurning the Utah Jazz for the Boston Celtics two summers ago. As we all expected, Jazz fans made their displeasure known early and often.

Unfortunately, revenge would be sweet for Jazz fans tonight, as Utah rode a rambunctious crowd at Vivint Smart Arena to a 123-115 win over the Celtics. With no Kyrie Irving (personal reasons) there to save them, the team was unable to manage an encore to the team’s thrilling overtime victory against the Phoenix Suns the night before. Led by their star trio of Joe Ingles (27 points, seven assists), Rudy Gobert (15 points, 14 rebounds) and Donovan Mitchell (19 points), the Jazz raced out to an 18-point lead early in the second half and never looked back.

While the night was all about Hayward, the former Jazz star wasn’t able to build much of a rhythm for much of the night. In 25 minutes of play, he would post 13 points and seven assists, but wasn’t terribly visible for much of the night aside from brief hot streaks in the first and fourth quarters.

Instead, it would be Jayson Tatum (21 points, five steals) and Marcus Smart (12 points, 10 assists) taking the reigns for the Celtics, along with a season-best 22-point performance from temporary starter Terry Rozier and a customarily effective supporting turn from Al Horford (13 points). Marcus Morris would continue his early season hot streak with 16 points of his own, and three of the Celtics’ fiver bench players, Morris, Smart and Aron Baynes, would finish with positive +/- marks for the night. Jaylen Brown struggled to find any momentum, with nine points on a dysmal 4-of-17 shooting for the night.

In the first half, the two teams went back and forth in a contest dominated by runs. The Celtics raced out to a 10-0 run after allowing the first two points of the game, only for Utah to counter with a 12-0 run of their own after coach Quin Snyder’s early timeout. Hayward himself found a fairly quick start, with a slick transition layup and pick-and-roll dime to Horford in the first quarter. To open up the second, he drilled perhaps the most confident jumper of the season so far, (briefly) quieting the energetic crowd.

The first half was both a blessing and a curse for the Celtics, as all of their games have seemed to be so far this season. Tatum responded well to his brief third-quarter benching in last night’s game against the Suns, leading the Celtics on both ends of the court with team-highs in points (12) and steals (3). Horford added nine points of his own, and the team combined for nine total steals as the Utah offense got a little careless with the ball.

The bad? The Celtics had no answers for Ingles or Gobert. Early in the second quarter, the game belonged to Gobert, who compiled 11 points on 5-of-5 shooting. The French Rejection finished a tough and-one over Semi Ojeleye, and followed it up a few minutes later with a highlight-reel block of Brown at the rim.

From there, Ingles took the wheel. The Jazz hit a blistering 60% of their shots, and none were louder than the Aussie’s three triples, headlining a 12-3 Utah run to end the first half. Ingles would frustrate Boston’s perimeter defenders repeatedly to close the second quarter, attacking the rim and flying around off-ball screens, and finished the halfwith a game-high 20 points.

Things would not improve for the Celtics in the third quarter, as five quick points and another three from Ingles helped spark a 17-4 run that would escalate Utah’s lead to a commanding 18 points. Shortly thereafter, with the Jazz cruising, the contentious atmosphere in the building would spill over onto the court; Morris and Jae Crowder would get tangled up after a dead ball, picking up a double-technical, and Morris would bowl over Crowder just moments later to draw a defensive foul and sink a pair of free throws.

The latter part of the third quarter featured some of the more frustrating fruits of the NBA’s new “freedom of movement” officiating directive. The two teams would combine for a total of 52 free throws on the night, and it felt as though 80% of them came in a third. After a point, you have to wonder if the refs’ throats get sore from all this persistent whistle-blowing.

Later in the third, Brown would find a bit of personal revenge, powering home an authoritative one-handed dunk in Gobert’s face.

The Celtics would begin to chip away at the Utah lead as the third quarter drew to a close. A quick 8-0 run would cut the lead down to just 12, and Hayward would reemerge with a nice catch-and-shoot three in the closing minutes. The Jazz seemed prepared, however, and a flurry of buckets from Rubio and Crowder would hold the Celtics at arms’ length.

The two teams traded punches once again to open the fourth quarter, as the Celtics regained some offensive momentum. With the newly-head-banded Aron Baynes on the bench to open the quarter, Derrick Favors would tip in consecutive missed shots on the offensive glass, but a three from Smart would cut the Utah lead to single digits for the first time since the start of the half, prompting a Snyder timeout.

The slugfest would continue throughout the quarter. Tatum would pick up his first points since halftime, with seven in the opening half of the quarter. The lead would tentatively hover between two and three possessions from there, as Smart and Rozier would trade momentum-shifting baskets with Crowder and Rubio. Though Celtics fans may continue to question Rozier’s shot selection even after his season-high performance tonight, it was working; he was undeniably the hot hand heading into the closing minutes of the game. Brown wouldn’t find his offensive rhythm, but would contribute some impact plays on the other end, including a stellar block of Gobert at the rim.

Ultimately, Irving’s absence would define the closing minutes of the game. The Celtics repeatedly came up with big plays to keep the game within grasp, but without their star point guard, they weren’t quite able to fully seal the deal. Hayward would sink a pair of free throws in the final minute to bring the Celtics within five, but Crowder would sink the dagger, hitting a corner three to put the Jazz ahead for good.

Next up, the Celtics travel to Portland to conclude their five game Western Conference trip against the Trail Blazers, Sunday at 9 PM EST.