SALT LAKE CITY – As you walked around the University of Utah’s Jon M. Huntsman Center’s concourse – the site of this year’s Utah Summer League – it’s hard to miss all those Gordon Hayward jerseys with his name crossed out in tape, or the one with the first two letters of his last name covered with ‘Co’ instead of ‘Ha’ so it reads, “Coward.”
Just another summer league game right?
Not even a little bit.
Utah, which spent most of the game trailing, was able to rally from a double-digit deficit for a 68-65 win that was capped off by a pair of free throws by Donovan Mitchell.
Boston had one last chance to force overtime with a 3-pointer, but the Celtics turned the ball over as time expired.
The Jazz summer league squad got the best of Boston Thursday night, but it paled in comparison to what was on the minds of most in attendance.
From the mutilated Hayward jerseys, to the “We’re gonna be alright” lyrics being played from Kendrick Lamar’s hit song, “alright,” this summer league game had added meaning courtesy of Boston coming to terms on a four-year, $127.8 million deal with Gordon Hayward who spent his first seven seasons in the NBA with the Jazz.
Upon introduction of Boston’s starters, there was a loud chorus of boos which spilled into the game on Boston’s first couple of offensive possessions.
The crowd soon had the effect of white noise with the Celtics – Jayson Tatum specifically – seemingly unfazed by the boo birds in the stands.
Tatum scored the game’s first basket on a one-legged, step-back jumper which set into motion a 10-4 start by the Celtics who led 34-29 at the half. He would finish with a second straight double-double, scoring 12 points to go with 12 rebounds. Utah was led by Exum’s 16 points.
Boston’s Jaylen Brown (coaches decision) did not play, but he said he would be back on the floor when the Celtics’ summer league squad played in Las Vegas.
Replacing him was Abdel Nader, a Development League (now Gatorade League) all-star last season with the Maine Red Claws. He had a team-high 17 points.
While Boston maintained a lead for the entire half, the Jazz did their part to remain within striking distance.
The action on the floor was filled with miscues and turnovers by both teams – a common sight in summer league play – but the buzz before, during and after the game centered around Hayward and his decision to leave Utah after seven seasons to play with his old college coach (Brad Stevens) in Boston.
While the league’s moratorium has been lifted, the Celtics have remained mum on the Hayward addition, still needing to clear enough salary cap space to make him joining the Celtics official.
Hayward is already in Boston awaiting the deal to become official, but his presence was a constant back in Salt Lake City.
And while capping off the summer league with a win certainly left the Jazz feeling good about itself, it fell well short of the true winner being Boston which came away with a much bigger and significant prize this week – Gordon Hayward.