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Gordon Hayward hits high note in homecoming — ‘This is a special place for him’

Gordon Hayward gives a thumbs-up leaving the court after the Celtics’ Game 4 win.Barry Chin/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

INDIANAPOLIS — On the same floor that a skinny Gordon Hayward recovered a fumbled pass and scored the winning bucket for Brownsburg High School in the 4A title game, a completely transformed Hayward splashed 3-pointers, drove for floaters, and soared for dunks for the Celtics.

It’s been 11 years since that March night that a baby-faced Hayward tossed in a 7-footer to give his school its first state title, but returns home are always special. Hayward has been through a couple of lifetimes since that moment.

He played two seasons at nearby Butler, helping the school to its first national title game appearance. He turned into a surprising lottery pick, playing seven years for the Utah Jazz. He signed a maximum contract with the Celtics.


He broke his leg and dislocated his ankle in his first game with the Celtics. Eighteen months later, Hayward returned to Bankers Life Fieldhouse (Conseco Fieldhouse in Hayward’s high school days) to help the Celtics sweep his hometown Pacers.

Hayward may be a completely different man, a full beard, gelled hair that never moves, a father of three daughters, a former All-Star, but there is something nostalgic about coming home, playing in front of his family and those Butler and Brownsburg fans who still remember No. 20 with the mop hairstyle.

“This is a special place for him,” Gordon Hayward Sr. said of his son. “He had his first game here with the Jazz and he had a dunk over Paul George and the crowd went wild. This is a special place.”

Hayward saved the Celtics Sunday on a day when Kyrie Irving and Al Horford couldn’t make a shot. He was their Mariano Rivera, scoring 9 of his 20 points in 9:15 of the fourth quarter to help the Celtics to a 110-106 win. He made all three of his field goals – a conventional 3-point play and two 3-pointers – to help seal the first-round series.


Said Irving: “This is his city. This is where he’s from and I’m glad he had a chance to put on a performance like that in a close-out game. It really means something to him.”

All of this in front of his family, including his father, who freely admitted that expectations watching his son have changed after such a catastrophic injury.

“You just want your son to play and to have a good game and the Celtics to win and [him] not get hurt,” Gordon Sr. said. “You’re not worried about anything else.”

Hayward’s ascension has been methodical and his season sometimes frustrating because of the mental setbacks, poor games or expected soreness.

“It’s been a long road,” Hayward Sr. said. “You have a major injury like that, you can come back in a year but you’re never the same typically for the next year. He’s worked so hard to get back. He had to go through that second surgery. I’m really so proud of how much work he’s put in.

“There’s all kind of people here that are rooting for him, wearing his jersey, still remember his Butler days.”

Gordon Hayward drew a foul on a drive into the heart of the Pacers’ defense in the second half.Barry Chin/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Hayward was the Celtics’ third-leading scorer in the series, averaging 12.3 points on 48.6 percent shooting, 44.4 percent from the 3-point line. He played 124 minutes in the series, an average of 31 minutes per game. By comparison, Hayward played 30 or more minutes just 13 times during the regular season.


So trust in Hayward is peaking and he no longer has any physical limits or minute restrictions.

“It’s been difficult,” Hayward Sr. said. “I think it’s been a trying season just from not only the physical but also the mental. People also don’t realize he’s playing with a brand new team. He’s playing for his old college coach, but that’s different, too. There’s been a lot of adaptation for him.”

But Dad notices the improvement.

“Defensively he moves a lot better,” he said. “He’s elevating. He’s dunking. Mentally, he goes in, he attacks more. He was hesitant before. Everyone would be. I’m sure he still has worries about it but he’s not as worried.”

Hayward cherished his homecoming. He said he’s finally nearing full health, and to be able to display flashes of vintage Hayward with the soaring dunks or the spinning stepbacks serves as a reward for his vigorous rehab.

“Physically, I feel way better now than I did at the beginning of the season,” he said. “I think more than anything, though, having the experience with this team. For sure, physically it’s been a slow progression. I’m still continuing to do my ankle exercises and try to strengthen that ankle but I think more than anything, having the experience, having the reps, getting the confidence back.”

In addition to his parents, Hayward was able to bring his wife and three daughters to the game.


“Seeing them before the game is amazing; I know that they don’t necessarily know what’s going on so they probably don’t care that we just swept the Pacers but they were happy they got some chocolate bunnies this morning and they got a chance to see me on the court,” he said. “Every time I come back here I have so much support and I really appreciate that. The cool part is there’s so many people that I don’t necessarily know they continue to root for me from Brownsburg and at Butler as well. To be able to be with my teammates, to be part of something like this, to get a chance to sweep the Pacers after everything that happened last year, it makes it all worth it, no doubt. It’s just the beginning for us.”

There were plenty of Celtics fans on hand when Gordon Hayward came out for pregame warmups.Barry Chin/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Gary Washburn can be reached at gwashburn@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GwashburnGlobe.