SALT LAKE CITY — A full calendar has passed since the Cleveland Cavaliers hosted the Boston Celtics during the 2017-18 regular season opener.
But that game on Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2017, is still unforgettable to Utah Jazz forward Jae Crowder when he witnessed the most gruesome injuryhe ever saw on the hardwood in Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena.
“It took the whole air out of the building,” Crowder recalled, who was then a member of the Cavaliers. “I remember being there and I remember the silence in the crowd.”
While defending newly acquired Celtics swingman Gordon Hayward on a backdoor alley-oop cut, he landed awkwardly and horrendously broke his left ankle just minutes into the game.
“Guys were looking at each other on both teams puzzled with crazy puzzled faces and just feeling for him at the time,” Crowder described. “Nobody had probably been through that type of situation with that type of injury so you don’t know how to reach to him but I just feel for him.
“I just remember all the air being taken out of the building and it was just a sad moment to see him get carted off the court.”
Now, Hayward is fully recovered after missing the remainder of that season. On Friday, the former Jazzman is expected to make his much-anticipated return to Salt Lake City for the first time as a Boston Celtic, with Crowder now a valuable member of his former Utah franchise.
During the same offseason that Hayward signed with Boston, Crowder was part of a trade with the Celtics and Cleveland in the deal to land All-Star guard Kyrie Irving. Crowder was traded again before the February deadline as part of another three-team deal of last season, which is how he ultimately found his way to Utah.
“Whatever meant to be is going to happen. That’s how I live my life and that’s why I feel like me playing for this organization is meant to be,” Crowder said. “It was meant for me to stop in Boston on the way to here and obviously it’s vice versa for him but I had a good time in Boston, I feel very comfortable where I’m at now, I’m happy with my role where I’m at now and I’m pleased to play for this organization.”
Despite the heartbreak of many Jazz fans, which stems from the way Hayward announced his decision to leave Utah through a July 4th “Thank You, Utah” letter on The Players’ Tribune, players and coaches are trying their best to keep the sideshow at a minimum. ESPN will air the matchup Friday at 7:30 p.m. from Vivint Arena.
“We as an organization, me as a coach, and our players appreciate the time that Gordon spent here and what he gave this organization and our teams,” said Jazz coach Quin Snyder. “It was a pleasure coaching him and he did a lot for us, but that said, it’s been a year and a half and I think almost immediately your focus goes to your team and to our current group and that’s where it is right now and everybody can respect that. It doesn’t diminish anything that Gordon’s done or his time here but it’s a year and a half later and this is a new team, we’ve got new players and this is Jazz against Boston.”
Hayward, 28, played his first seven seasons in Utah before signing as a free agent with Boston. In his final season as a Jazzman in 2016-17, he made the All-Star team and reached the second round of the postseason.
His former Jazz teammates Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert said they rarely talk to him nowadays, but Joe Ingles claims their bond is still intact to some degree.
“We’re friends. We’ve always been friends,” Ingles said. “That’s about it really. You talk to your friend sometimes and sometimes you don’t. He’s got his own life, he’s got a family, I’ve got my own life and my family so it’s like any other relationship.”
However, once the ball is tipped all of the friendship goes out of the window as both teams are looking to win. While the return of Hayward is sure to dominate the headlines, Crowder is just as eager to get a win against his former Boston team as well — just without any more injuries in the process.
“It’ll probably be a lot of emotions, a lot of fans cheering us on, very into the game obviously with the ties they had with Gordon but I think it’ll be some fans that’ll be very pleased with a win,” Crowder said. “I’m sure they want to win no matter what.”