Utah Jazz notebook: Indiana still loves Gordon Hayward despite rough night
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
INDIANAPOLIS — This wasn't the type of homecoming Gordon Hayward envisioned.
Five turnovers, 2-for-6 shooting, eight points and a 104-84 loss to the team he grew up cheering for made for a rough return for the hometown hero, who led nearby Butler to the NCAA championship game in 2010.
"You've got to give the Pacers credit," Hayward said in his third trip back home as a pro player. "They played hard and they took us out of what we wanted to do."
The opposite could be said of Utah and Hayward, who had dozens and dozens of supporters in the Bankers Life Fieldhouse crowd sporting his No. 20 Jazz uniform, eager to cheer him on again.
Hayward's dazed and frustrated look during the second half of Wednesday's blowout was a stark contrast to the big smile he had on before the game while being interviewed by numerous local media outlets.
"It's always good to be back," Hayward said before tipoff. "I can't believe it's already the third time."
The Jazz won his first visit his rookie season, and he still considers the loud ovation and outpouring of support that night to be a career highlight.
"It was kind of like my I-can't-believe-I'm-here-in-the-NBA moment, when I went in, just because I'd watched so many Pacers games growing up and dreamed about playing there," Hayward said. "To have everybody cheering for you, it was pretty special."
Since then, one of Reggie Miller's biggest fans has dropped two straight to the home team.
Hayward gave the Indianapolis area even more reason to love him lately. He donated what Butler called a "significant gift" during a campaign aimed at raising funds to renovate Hinkle Fieldhouse, his college's famous gym.
"They're adding a bunch of stuff to it. They're still going to keep that tradition and history of it, but kind of catch up with everyone else," Hayward said. "I just wanted to do my part. Butler meant a lot to me. I know wouldn't be here without them — coach (Brad) Stevens and the whole basketball program. I think the opportunity was there, especially financially for me, so I'm happy to give and help them move that project along."
Earl Watson, one of three Jazzmen with ties to Indiana, focused his answer to Hayward when asked if he feels extra emotion returning to the place where he played for a season before signing with Utah in 2010.
"It's extra emotion to come back with Gordon Hayward. It's like your'e coming back with a rock star. I'm like the backup band member," Watson joked. "I'm following him everywhere in Indiana. I'm in the background of every picture that's taken — photo crashing. I'm the photo crasher."
Unfortunately for the Jazz, the Pacers were Hayward's party crashers Wednesday.
TINSLEY TOWN: Point guard Jamaal Tinsley played the first seven seasons of his NBA career with the Pacers — from 2001-08 — but he was less than nostalgic about returning. He had some terrific seasons as a player but also had some off-the-court issues that hampered his stay in Indiana.
"I had a lot of good memories in here, a lot of bad memories," he admitted.
Tinsley, whom the Jazz signed before last season after his career led him to the D-League, said he's grown from when he was a Pacer. He knows how to take care of his body better. He tries to be a good example to the younger guys on the team and "be a good teammate when things aren't going right for other teammates."
The 34-year-old guard backed up Mo Williams in Brooklyn during Tuesday's 92-90 win, but it was Watson's turn to play Wednesday.
That disappointed a group of fans who chanted "We want Tinsley!" in the final minutes — to no avail.
"It felt good," Tinsley said. "It is what it is. I could have took that two different kind of ways. ... It would have felt better if we would've got a win. Too bad tonight was not my night to play. It was tough. I just wanted to win. Tonight they just outplayed us."
SIZING UP HIS PROBLEMS: Al Jefferson missed his first seven shots Wednesday, and it appeared he was bothered by the defense of Indiana's 7-foot-2 Roy Hibbert.
Big Al disputed that theory.
"I'm not going to say it was their size because I just played against (a) 7-footer last night (Brook Lopez) and made the same shots," Jefferson said. "Once I get 0-for-5, 0-for-6, my mind, it kind of goes. I just wasn't making shots."
Jefferson finally made an inside bucket in the third quarter before leaving with four points on 1-for-8 shooting.
"Roy, he was a great defensive player, I'll give him that," Jefferson said. "I don't think it was really too much what he was doing. It's not like he was blocking my shots."
Then again, Hibbert didn't need to.
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