Gobert, Jazz Wish Hayward a Speedy Recovery

BOSTON – Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert had Dec. 15 marked on his calendar long before the 2017-18 season started. That night would mark his first matchup against former teammate Gordon Hayward, who parted ways with the Jazz this past summer to sign with the Boston Celtics.

Now, the date has finally arrived; however, the anticipation of the friends-turned-foes matchup has completely disappeared. In fact, the hype faded away before Utah’s season even began.

On Oct. 17, the eve of the Jazz’s regular-season opener, Gobert settled down in front of his TV in Salt Lake City to watch Hayward make his Celtics debut against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

It was odd knowing that his former comrade was tipping off the new campaign without him. It was even stranger to see Hayward racing up and down the court at Quicken Loans Arena in a new uniform, as he logged two points and a rebound within the first five minutes of action.

But what happened next took Gobert’s uneasiness to a completely different level.

At the 6:45 mark of the first quarter, Hayward went up to corral an alley-oop pass, but collided mid-air with LeBron James and Jae Crowder and fell to the floor, gruesomely dislocating his left ankle and fracturing his left tibia in the process.

Millions of viewers watched in horror, including Gobert.

“I was really shocked,” Gobert told Celtics.com Friday morning following Jazz shootaround at TD Garden. “Nobody expected that to happen. I just wanted to watch the game, and this happened, and it made me feel a bit weird for sure.”

Gobert had certainly been discouraged by Hayward’s decision to leave the Jazz during the summer, but any hard feelings momentarily went out the window.

“I sent him a text,” said the 7-foot-1 France native. “I wished him a good recovery.”

Gobert wasn’t the only member of the Jazz who was in total shock that night. Most of the organization, including coach Quin Snyder, felt heartbroken over the tragic event.

“Everybody in our organization, all the guys on our team, you feel awful for him,” said Snyder. “You never want to see that happen to anybody, and particularly him, given the relationships that he has on our group.”

Not having to face Hayward lessens the emotions for the Jazz heading into Friday’s game, but it hardly changes the challenges that await them. Even without an All-Star wing in Hayward, the Celtics have a lot of other weapons, as Snyder pointed out.

“Kyrie (Irving), obviously, with his ability to create offense – he’s able to do that at a unique level,” said the fourth-year head coach. “I think their wings are playing extremely well with their activity. Al (Horford) is such a versatile player on offense and on defense. And I feel like Marcus Smart is unique, as well – his ability to defend and compete. There’s balance there. They’re a formidable team, and that’s why they have the best record in the [East].”

The 24-6 Celtics have also caught the attention of Gobert, who is surprised with how well they have done in spite of losing Hayward.

“They have a young group of guys and you can see that they’re having fun,” said Gobert. “They’re all playing hard and unselfishly. They’re fun to watch.”

As an All-Defensive First-teamer, it makes sense that Gobert would admire Boston’s league-best defensive start. The Celtics haven’t been as exceptional on the other end, ranking 12th in offensive rating, but Gobert believes they’ll improve in that area whenever Hayward returns, be it this season or next.

“He can score in a lot of different ways,” said Gobert, who is averaging 12.2 points, 10.1 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game for the 13-15 Jazz. “I think he’s going to help them, especially offensively.”

Gobert won’t have to deal with stopping Hayward Friday night, but he knows his former teammate is making great strides along the road to recovery. Hayward removed his walking boot Wednesday, and will not yet rule out a possible return later this season, though he and the team have said they aren't counting on it.

It’s unlikely, that Hayward would be back in time for Boston and Utah’s next meeting on March 28; but it’s also not an impossibility. Knowing that, Gobert and the Jazz will mark that date on their calendar, hoping to see Hayward back in his former city in three and a half months, fully healthy and suited up to play.