Pregame Post-Ups: C's Set To Meet No. 1 Pick Ayton in Phoenix

Friday, November 9 - Celtics at Jazz

Pregame – Stevens Expects Tonight To Be an Emotional One for Hayward

SALT LAKE CITY – There’s big news tonight regarding Gordon Hayward: he will play in his first back-to-back of the season.

OK, the real story is that he’s making his return to Salt Lake City, where he left during the summer of 2017 to join the Celtics, but the back-to-back aspect adds a twist to the game.

“This is kind of the litmus test,” Brad Stevens said of tonight’s game, “is the second night of a back-to-back at the same level he’s been playing. So (he) should be about the same, somewhere in that 23 to 26-minute range.”

That’s good news for everyone in the building, because no one wanted Hayward to miss another potential return to the arena he used to call home.

It’s well-known at this point that Hayward suffered a dramatic injury during the first game of last season. He missed 11 months before being cleared for full-contact basketball, which delayed his return to Salt Lake City. He has played all but one game this season for Boston, but this one will unquestionably be a bit different.

On this night, Hayward will be exposed to the true feelings of Salt Lake City’s fans, who were angered by the forward’s decision to leave and sign with the Celtics. Hayward will also see plenty of familiar faces throughout the night, ranging from Utah’s head coach, Quin Snyder, to security guards in the hallways.

“I think obviously he spent seven great years here and it meant a lot to him and his family,” Stevens said. “Without question, there’s going to be extra emotions that go into that for him. The best that we can, you focus on what you can control and go from there. I think it would be not human to not recognize that there will be extra emotions attached to this.”

Stevens said he expects Hayward to “handle it fine” as he works his way through the night’s emotions. The other lingering question revolved around what Hayward will bring to the table for Boston while he is on the court.

Hayward enters tonight’s game averaging only 9.9 points per game on 40.0 percent shooting. He averaged at least 16.2 PPG for four straight seasons before joining Boston, so he clearly has not returned to his All-Star form. Stevens said it’s on him and the coaching staff to get Hayward in better positions to look like his old self.

“I think one of the things that we’ve got to do a better job of as a group is put all of our guys in position to be more successful within their strengths,” the coach said. “He brings a lot of strengths to the table off of general actions and off of pick-and-rolls, where he can be a playmaker for others, as well as himself. I think early on we’ve done a decent job, but I think we can do a lot better as a staff.”

Stevens made sure to note that no one within Boston’s organization assumed that Hayward would pick up right where he left off before his injury.

“We didn’t expect this to be an overnight thing,” Stevens said.

On the contrary, what Stevens, Hayward and the Celtics do expect is for tonight’s game to be an emotional rollercoaster as the forward makes the return to the building he called home for the first seven years of his career.

- Marc D'Amico