SALT LAKE CITY — His former teammates on the Utah Jazz really had no interest in the juicy storyline about the return of Gordon Hayward, the former face of the franchise who bolted in free agency for greener pastures in Boston.
“You guys will all get your stories out now,” Joe Ingles said in a dismissive tone after starring in the Jazz’s 123-115 win Friday over the Boston Celtics. “We can hopefully move on with life. At the end of the day for us, it was Boston vs. the Jazz. It was nothing to do with one person or whatever it was.”
Try telling that to Jae Crowder.
Celtics forward Gordon Hayward finished with 13 points Friday night as he played in Utah for the first time since leaving as a free agent. Hayward was booed loudly by Jazz fans who previously cheered his every move.
A season removed from leaving the Jazz, Gordon Hayward makes his long-awaited return to Utah in a very different place than when he joined the Celtics.
Crowder did his best to toe the company line, spouting clichés like, “We had to focus on ourselves,” to the media horde surrounding his locker. That was all true, but this was definitely not just another game to the former Celtic who was deeply offended by Boston fans chanting Hayward’s name when the Jazz visited TD Garden months before the All-Star hit the free agency market. And Crowder readily admits that he will always hold a grudge against the Celtics for putting him in the package they shipped to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Kyrie Irving.
So, yes, it was especially sweet for Crowder to hit that dagger 3 from the corner with 28 seconds remaining — just in case you couldn’t tell by Crowder staring at the Celtics’ bench as he skipped down the opposite sideline.
“It feels good,” Crowder told ESPN with a big smile. “I’m going to enjoy it tonight. I really wanted to win this game. I really wanted to win the game. No matter if I played good or bad, I just wanted to win the game. Obviously, I was able to play good. It means a lot to me to get this win. We see these guys in about a week, and I want to get that win as well.”
Former Celtic Jae Crowder hit two big 3-pointers in the fourth quarter to help the Jazz stave off Boston’s comeback.
It’s sort of fitting that Ingles and Crowder, two guys who will always be tied to Hayward in totally different ways, played such significant roles in this win.
Ingles, as you’ve surely heard, was Hayward’s best buddy on the Jazz. Their friendship, as well as the fact that they’re both represented by agent Mark Bartelstein, got a lot of attention after the Jazz inked Ingles to a four-year, $52 million deal days before Hayward’s decision a couple of summers ago.
Did the Jazz want Ingles on board before their meeting with Hayward? Sure. But the suggestion that Ingles got paid because of his relationship with Hayward was always ridiculous.
Of course, there isn’t much criticism about that contract these days. Not after Ingles, who became a full-time starter for the first time after Hayward’s departure, played such a critical role in helping Utah return to the second round of the playoffs last season. His performance in the win over the Celtics — a career-high-matching 27 points on 10-of-14 shooting with 5 rebounds and 7 assists — reminded the basketball world of his value.
“Honestly, I really couldn’t care less,” Ingles told ESPN. “I’ve got that [contract] regardless now, so they can say all they want. I don’t really think about it too much. It’s kind of the same story as when I came here. I was coming to mentor [fellow Australian Dante Exum]. I was getting signed to try to keep Gordon was the second thing. I really don’t care.
“I know the organization, the Millers, [general manager Dennis Lindsey], coach and my teammates appreciate what I do and what I bring to the team. That’s all I really care about.”
Donovan Mitchell and the rest of the Jazz were appreciative of Joe Ingles’ career-high, 27-point performance.
The Jazz also have a great appreciation for what Crowder brings to the team. He was a critical part of the Jazz’s remarkable turnaround last season after arriving in a trade-deadline deal from the Cavaliers, providing the versatility to play small-ball power forward in Utah’s preferred closing lineup and fiery toughness.
“He’s got a heartbeat that you can feel,” said Jazz coach Quin Snyder, who wrapped Crowder in a bear hug after the win.
For the record, Crowder is quite grateful to have been traded from Cleveland, in contrast to his feelings for Boston. And he’s proud enough to firmly believe that Boston made a mistake in moving him.
“They know,” Crowder said when asked if he was trying to prove that point Friday, when he had 20 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists off the bench, including eight points in the final five minutes. “Leave it at that.”
While Gordon Hayward finds his footing for the Boston Celtics this season, the Utah Jazz have seen two forwards playing better in Hayward’s former teammate Joe Ingles and former Celtic Jae Crowder.
2018-19 AVERAGES GORDON HAYWARD JOE INGLES JAE CROWDER
Minutes 25.1 33.9 30.2
Points (FG%) 10.2 (39.4) 13.8 (44.4) 14.7 (45.7)
Rebounds 5.2 4.3 5.5
Assists 2.6 4.4 1.8
Steals 0.8 1.7 0.8
3s (%) 1.3 (31.8) 2.7 (39.0) 2.3 (35.1)
Hayward: Left Jazz to sign with Celtics July 14, 2017
With all due respect, Boston has every right to believe otherwise, considering Irving’s excellence. But that kind of logic isn’t about to get in the way of Crowder’s competitive fire.
“He loves these type of games,” said Donovan Mitchell, the young star who filled Hayward’s shoes as the Jazz’s go-to guy. “That’s the type of competitor he is.”
Ingles is a different kind of competitor, a calming influence for the Jazz. He’s also a poster child for Utah’s player development program, arriving as a scrap-heap pickup in October 2014 who had never played in the NBA and improving to become a prominent piece of a playoff team. He has become an elite 3-point shooter and a crafty pick-and-roll playmaker, skills that he displayed often at the expense of his friend Hayward on Friday night, much to the delight of the rowdy crowd.
“It wasn’t a specific, like, ‘Let’s target him,”‘ Ingles said of the Jazz putting Hayward in pick-and-roll after pick-and-roll during his 20-point, four-assist first half. “We found some things early that we kept going back to.”
The Jazz, a franchise many expected to return to irrelevance after Hayward left, have found the formula to be a factor in the West. Ingles and Crowder are essential elements of that, allowing Utah to move on with life and maintain the same lofty ambitions.