Huge Hayward

Photo: Brent Asay Utah JazzPhoto: Brent Asay Utah Jazz

A career night for Gordon Hayward turned into a 112-101 Jazz win over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday night.  Hayward went off, scoring a career high 37 points on just 16 shots. He played the best game of his life, and his coach noticed.

“How about Gordon? He was huge.” Utah Jazz head coach Tyrone Corbin said after the game. “We needed every last basket he made for us. And not only on the offensive end, but defensively I thought he made some plays for us got his hands on some balls. He carried us down the stretch just by making plays. He was determined.”

Determined is right. With 9:02 left Hayward missed a field goal for the last time on Tuesday. From the 6:57 mark through the final horn, he was the only Jazz player to score. Hayward dropped 17 straight for Utah and sealed the best win of the year for the Jazz.

Hayward has struggled shooting the ball in an offense that decisively runs through him more than ever before. As his usage went up, his shooting went down. That wasn’t the case last night as he caught fire like he was playing NBA Jam.

“I was in the zone a little bit tonight, so it was finally good to be there,” Hayward said.

When asked if performances like this was what he expected out of himself this season, Hayward smiled and said, “Maybe not this every night, but definitely knocking down more shots… I know there’s going to be ups and downs in the season and so it’s good to finally have a good night for me.”

The good night just happened to come against one of the NBA’s elite player and a legitimate MVP candidate, Kevin Durant. Durantula didn’t disappoint the packed house at EnergySolutions Arena on Tuesday. Tying his own NBA best mark for the year, he poured in 48 points but used 34 field goal attempts to get there.

After the game Durant said that the mind was powerful and after seeing a few shots go in, sometimes a player feels like they can’t miss. Unfortunately for him, he wasn’t the only player on the court that felt that way Tuesday.

Oklahoma City head coach Scott Brooks has seen a guy get hot and seemingly become unstoppable probably more than any coach in the league with Durant at the helm for the Thunder. In the end those experiences didn’t matter because Brooks couldn’t find an answer for Hayward.

“We had different guys on him. We had probably 4-5 guys on him tonight I think five guys ended up guarding him. He had a hot game. He hasn’t shot the ball well this year but… he’s a good player,” Brooks said. “He plays hard, they play hard and they’re getting better. We tried everything on him and he had a hot hand.”

Hayward saved his biggest shot for the home stretch. With 4:16 to go the Thunder had just cut a lead that maxed out at 24 points, to five. Hayward was dribbling at the top of the key and as he made a move to the right wing, OKC left him alone. He hoisted the three and the Jazz never let the lead dip below eight again.

While it was a phenomenal night, that’s the word Alec Burks used to describe Hayward, the Jazz should be encouraged because it was his third good game in a row. Over the stretch he has made 29-48 field goals and shot 9-14 from beyond the arc. He credits his shooting improvement to the recent stretches at home allowing him extra time in the gym to get a rhythm.

He said with the help of assistant coaches he noticed that he was fading away from his shot too often. He spent evenings over the last few weeks in the gym working on staying upright. It’s working. He was able to keep from falling away from his shots against the Thunder and it turned into a career night. Even though Hayward has now eclipsed every notable personal best he had heading into the season, he still recognizes where he can improve.

“I still have a lot of improvement to be made,” Hayward said. “Consistency has been huge for me so hopefully I can keep doing this.”

The win was a mark of just how far the Jazz have progressed in the two month season. Not even the most faithful of Jazz nation would have believed Utah could closeout against the Thunder like this a month ago. Brooks, and I’m sure others around the league, are taking notice.

“I give Ty (Corbin) a lot of credit. He’s building a good team. They’re a young team but they play hard and they’re gaining valuable experience throughout the season,” Brooks said. “They’re a much better team than they were in November.”

With the win the Jazz still have the worst record in the West and would rank third from the bottom league wide. A long ways from where they want to be, Hayward and the Jazz have a couple days of practices to solidify what happened on Tuesday before they host the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday.

Skyler Hardman, a Utah native and life long Jazz fan, dreamed of covering the team at an age when most of his peers were still hoping to play in the NBA.  Before the Jazz, he spent time covering Snow College and BYU for various outlets. You can find him on Twitter @Skydiz
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