Hayward's homecoming: Jazz rookie thrills hometown fans with big dunk
Indianapolis • It is unusual for a player on a visiting team to leave a crowd satisfied. But Jazz rookie Gordon Hayward did just that Friday night in Utah's 95-84 victory against the Indiana Pacers.
After a missed 3-pointer by Pacers guard A.J. Price with 10 minutes, 35 seconds remaining in the second quarter, Hayward the former Butler University star grabbed the long rebound, dribbled the ball to the other end of the court, and dunked over fellow Indiana rookie Paul George.
"The dunk was great," Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said. "He came down, got the ball, went to the basket strong, and finished the play."
Hayward downplayed his only points of the game.
"I just tried to go up strong and dunked," Hayward said. "It's a play that every player makes. It was good to kind of get the crowd going."
Hayward made sure his friend George noticed the dunk.
"Paul's a great guy," Hayward said. "We talked before [the game], and after I dunked, I said a little bit, too."
Hayward's dunk brought most of the fans at Conseco Fieldhouse to their feet in what might have been the loudest ovation of the evening. His No. 20 Jazz road jersey was also among the most prominent in the arena.
"I can't believe how much there was," Hayward said. "Everyone was wearing them. It was great to see that."
The fans were on his side throughout the game, chanting his name, and even booing when he was called for a foul.
Playing in his hometown left Hayward at a loss for words.
"It was just, wow," he said.
Utah's coach thought his young forward stayed focused and helped the team win.
"For his first time back in his home city, he did a good job of just relaxing and playing," Corbin said.
Despite the dunk and all the hometown support, helping Corbin get his first victory as a head coach was Hayward's favorite part of returning to Indianapolis.
"I'm most happy about the win," Hayward said. "We've been struggling a little bit, so it's good to get a win finally, and we played well as a team."