SALT LAKE CITY — Just after entering Tuesday night’s game, Gordon Hayward went flying down the lane only to run into Golden State’s 7-foot, 240-pound center Andris Biedrins. Everyone inside EnergySolutions Arena, including Jazz coaches, players and fans, held their collective breath.
After not playing for more than three weeks because of a sprained shoulder, this was Hayward’s first game back in the Jazz lineup after missing 10 games.
However, the collision didn’t affect Hayward in the least as he bounced up and calmly stepped to the line and sank two free throws.
That was the start of what turned out to be a triumphant return for the third-year player out of Butler. He ended up playing just under 25 minutes and scored 17 points on 5-of-9 shooting from the field and 5-of-6 shooting from the line, while grabbing three rebounds and handing out four assists in the Jazz's 115-101 win over Golden State.
“He looked great,’’ said Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin. “His pace was good. He came off difficult shots well. And he didn’t favor the shoulder when he went into the lane. I thought he did a great job. It was good for us.’’
“Personally, it was great to be out there," Hayward said. "I had fun out there.’’
Hayward received an enthusiastic ovation when he entered the game for Marvin Williams at the 4:35 mark of the first quarter. He was wearing a noticeable black sleeve on his right shoulder, which had padding in it for protection.
He got his hands on a rebound a few seconds after entering the game and really got into the action when he decisively drove down the middle and collided with Biedrins and drew the foul. The resulting free throws were his first points since Jan. 26.
Hayward scored the first points of the second quarter on a dunk off a nice feed from Earl Watson. A couple of minutes later he sank a 3-pointer from the right corner and then added another 3 later in the quarter from the left angle.
In the third quarter he added three more free throws, then made the first basket of the fourth quarter on a turnaround 15-footer in the lane. He also added a 22-footer from the top of the key.
And what about that initial hit against Biedrins?
“I was just trying to make a play,’’ he said. “You can’t be hesitant after an injury. It’s one thing not being afraid of re-injuring it — I have the pad on anyway.’’
Corbin admitted he was a bit nervous on that first hit Hayward took.
“I was watching to see how he would respond,’’ he said. “He took a hit and was able to make the free throws and he played well from there.’’
The Jazz coach said he was able to play Hayward longer than expected because of the way the timeouts and quarter breaks worked out, giving him more time to rest.
Hayward said he didn’t know what to expect, but that he just wanted to “go out there and compete and play hard as long as I could without getting tired.’’
“It was good to have him back,’’ said Williams. “As guys start to get healthy it’s exciting for us, especially coming down the stretch.’’