SALT LAKE CITY — Officially, Wednesday night was the first time Gordon Hayward and the Indiana Pacers have been on a court at the same time during an NBA game.
But similar scenarios — with similar buzzer-beating 3-point shots that Hayward ended up drilling — happened a million times in the backyard of his childhood home in Brownsburg, Ind.
The game was on the line. Indiana had the last possession. But in the Jazz rookie's mind, it wasn't No. 20 with the ball. It was the Pacers' legendary No. 31 who was being counted on for a clutch shot in the Hayward's hoop.
"(I) was always Reggie Miller out in the driveway," Hayward said. "Three ... two ... one."
Shot. Swish. Buzzer. Crowd goes crazy. And all that fun stuff.
But in his childhood fantasies, the huge Miller fan won games for the Hoosier State's pro team, not the Beehive State basketball squad.
"Growing up, you always wanted to play for the Pacers," Hayward recalled. "So to play against them is different, but it's kinda cool at the same time."
Though he only played two minutes and 17 seconds against his hometown team, Hayward gave fans from Salt Lake City to Indianapolis a reason to cheer loudly at the end of the game.
With time running out on the 24-second shot clock, Ronnie Price found Hayward alone behind the arc. The 20-year-old took the pass. Three ... two ... one.
Shot. Swish. Buzzer. Crowd goes crazy. And all of that fun stuff.
"I was happy for him," Jazz forward C.J. Miles said, "to be able to get in there and get a shot."
Hayward said this shot felt much better than the airball he hucked up in a similar situation Monday.
"This time it went in," he said, smiling.
That 1-for-1 shooting from 3-point distance with 13.1 seconds left turned out to be the only statistic Hayward totaled in the Jazz's 110-88 win.
But he did hope to get in and make a shot.
"I was telling someone at halftime, 'I'm hot. I'm hot,' " Hayward joked.
Added Hayward: "I was definitely anxious and ready, especially when you could see that we were kind of pulling away. ... It was nice to get in there, and it was a great team win for us."
Hayward had a couple of years as a well-known star in Indiana, capped by him becoming the darling of the NCAA Tournament while leading his Indianapolis-based Butler squad to the championship game last spring after a couple of impressive wins in Utah.
Leading up to Wednesday's game, the sparingly used No. 9 pick received texts from confused friends back in Indiana.
"They don't know who to root for," Hayward said Wednesday morning. "But I think my real friends will hopefully root for us."
At least he gave them all a reason to cheer in the end.
INDIANA REUNION PART II: Jazz guard Earl Watson played for the Pacers last season, averaging 7.8 points and 5.1 assists per game. He provided a young team with some leadership, and coach Jim O'Brien was sad to see him go.
"Earl's a great leader — a great leader, a hard worker, knows the game," O'Brien said. "We loved having Earl play for us. We miss him. We miss him as a man. We're making strides at the point guard spot, but you always love to have someone like Earl Watson on your basketball team."
AIDS AWARENESS: The Jazz players and coaches weren't trying to make a fashion statement by wearing red shoes, red warm-up shirts, red ribbons and red ties.
Along with other teams across the league, the Jazz were, however, trying to help the NBA make a positive statement on World AIDS Day.
"The initiative," a press release stated, "is part of a league-wide effort to raise awareness and decrease the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS."
Contributing: Andrew Aragon
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