Donovan Mitchell, Jazz Beat Celtics 123-115 in Gordon Hayward's Return to Utah

Alec Nathan@@AlecBNathanFeatured ColumnistNovember 10, 2018

SALT LAKE CITY, UT - NOVEMBER 9: Donovan Mitchell #45 of the Utah Jazz handles the ball against the Boston Celtics on November 9, 2018 at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images)
Melissa Majchrzak/Getty Images

The Utah Jazz defeated the Boston Celtics 123-115 on Friday night as Gordon Hayward made his first appearance at Vivint Smart Home Arena since he bolted for Brad Stevens' squad as a free agent in the summer of 2017.  

Hayward, who was booed every time he touched the ball, wasn't heard from often and finished with 13 points (3-of-9 shooting, 6-of-6 from the free-throw line) and seven assists. 

As a team, the Celtics (7-5) shot just 44.3 percent from the field on the second night of a back-to-back following a thrilling come-from-behind win over the Phoenix Suns. 

The Jazz (6-6), on the other hand, shot 55.8 percent from the floor as balance ruled the day. 

Joe Ingles led a group of six double-figure scorers and tied his career high with 27 points on 10-of-14 shooting, including 5-of-9 from three. Donovan Mitchell added 21 points and five dimes as Utah ripped off its second straight win.

It's Not Worth Panicking About Hayward Yet

No, Hayward's return to the floor hasn't been a sight to behold. 

He entered Friday's tilt averaging 9.9 points per game on 40 percent shooting from the field, and the Celtics' offensive rating—which is already a lowly 27th overall at 103.7 points per 100 possessions—has plummeted to 98.7  with him on the floor. 

Plus, he hasn't exactly showcased loads of bounce or the kind of quick first step that made him a lethal, multidimensional scoring threat before he fractured his ankle. That much was evident as he sputtered his way to 13 points and three made field goals. 

His lateral agility was also lacking on defense, and the Jazz noticed: 

And sure, none of that is encouraging. But considering he's only played 11 games, it's hardly time to smash the panic button. 

After all, Hayward told us this would likely be the case. 

"I won't be the same player," Hayward said in episode two of The Return for The Athletic (h/t Boston.com's Nik DeCosta-Klipa. "I'll be a different player. I think something of that magnitude changes you as a player. Does that mean that I'm not going to be able to get to the same level or better than I was? Absolutely not."

For now, Hayward is still trying to figure out what kind of player he's going to be. 

And while that process will undoubtedly be a lengthy one, his track record suggests it would be foolish to count him out. 

                                          

Crowder Enters Sixth Man of the Year Race with Authority

Ingles was the headliner Friday night, but Jae Crowder was the real X-factor with 20 points, six rebounds and four assists off the bench against his former team. 

However, it was hardly some blip on the radar. That's the kind of production the Jazz have come to expect from their sixth man. 

The 28-year-old has been a force throughout the first few weeks of the season, and he's helped fuel an offense that has been flirting with top-10 status thanks to his floor-stretching capabilities as a small-ball 4. 

To wit: Entering Friday night, Utah owned an offensive rating of 108.9 with Crowder on the floor. Without him, that mark has dipped to 102.1. 

Additionally, Crowder's versatility has made him an indispensable piece of how the Jazz function on both ends. According to NBA.com's lineup data, four of Utah's five best three-man units feature Crowder. Rudy Gobert and Mitchell aren't even in that many. 

Not bad for a guy who looked lost at times after the Cleveland Cavaliers traded him to the Jazz in February. 

"I didn't feel like I played to my potential last year," he said, per The Athletic's Jay King. "I had career games in the playoffs, but I still felt like I wasn't engaged the way I should be mentally with my family issues and stuff like that."

Now, that's all in the past. 

And with his confidence growing by the game, it's hard not to envision Crowder as a contender for Sixth Man of the Year hardware if he continues to serve as a linchpin for one of the West's ascendant clubs. 

                                                               

What's Next? 

The Celtics will enjoy a day off Saturday before they wrap up their five-game road trip Sunday against the Portland Trail Blazers at Moda Center. The Jazz, meanwhile, will embark on a five-game road swing of their own that begins Monday at FedEx Forum against the Memphis Grizzlies. 

                         

Stats courtesy of NBA.com

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