Kyrie Irving

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Jazz 107, Celtics 95: Celtics finally look like they miss Gordon Hayward, who's not ruling out a return

John Tomase
December 15, 2017 - 10:48 pm
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Two teams missed Gordon Hayward on Friday night, but one of them really, really missed him.

Had last summer worked out just a little differently, Hayward would've been wearing No. 20 for the visiting Jazz. His decision to leave Utah was wrenching, but he believed Boston represented the next step in his journey.

Five minutes into the season, however, Hayward skied for an alley-oop and we all know the rest. He's almost certain to be sidelined for the entire season -- though before the game he said he's not ruling out a return -- and on Friday his old team reminded his new one that life without the All-Star isn't going to be as easy as a 16-game winning streak may have fooled it into thinking.
The Celtics dropped their third game in five tries, 107-95, with many of the same flaws that hurt them in losses to the Spurs and Bulls once again proving costly.

The C's received almost nothing from their bench. They were murdered on the boards. Kyrie Irving wasn't transcendent.

Add it together and the C's are starting to look like a team that's finally feeling the loss of its All-Star small forward.

The Jazz know that feeling all too well. They watched Hayward depart this summer in a devastating blow to the franchise after nurturing him over his first seven NBA seasons. They replaced him with Ricky Rubio and old friend Jonas Jerebko, among others, drafted promising guard Donovan Mitchell from Louisville, and entered Friday's game 14-15, a half game out of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

"Hopefully, today will be the last day we have to talk about Gordon," Jazz forward Joe Ingles told reporters at shootaround. "It is what it is. He's a grown man. He made the decision and we've all moved on. The sun is still coming up each day and we're all good."

The Celtics are beginning to confront reality. With Hayward sidelined and forward Marcus Morris shelved because of a knee injury, Boston is thin offensively and fatigue may be playing a factor.

"It's all part of growing as a team, as a new developing team," Irving told reporters. "The way we started and what we're going through now, there's going to be times like this. And this is nothing yet. I guarantee you. This is nothing yet."

Guards Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier combined to shoot 3-for-17 as the Jazz bench outscored the C's 50-26. The second unit helped turn a 26-21 lead after one into a 46-39 halftime deficit as the Celtics played more than half the second quarter before making a basket.

Playing without All-Star center Rudy Gobert, who left with a knee injury just a minute into the game, the Jazz still outrebounded the Celtics 55-31, reversing Boston's early-season trend of dominance on the glass.

That left too much of a burden on Irving, who scored a game-high 33 points, but on inefficient 11-of-25 shooting, including 2-for-8 on 3-pointers.

In two of those three areas, the Celtics felt Hayward's absence. His presence in the starting lineup would allow rookie Jayson Tatum to shift to the second unit, and later in the game it would keep Semi Ojeleye on the bench. His ability to score at all three levels would ease Irving's burden and make the Celtics harder to defend. His rebounding (4.2 lifetime) might not have made a huge difference, except that made baskets limit opportunities on the boards.

The good news is that Hayward is out of a walking boot and hasn't shut the door on returning this season.

"My mind is open to that," he said before the game. "I'm trying to get back as fast as I can. It all depends on how fast I heal, taking it day by day, goal by goal."

That should be music to the ears of Celtics fans, because as the last week has illustrated, the Celtics do, in fact, miss their max-contract free agent. It was only a matter of time.

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