Summary: A Gordon Hayward-led third quarter explosion carried the Jazz to a 105-98 win over the Denver Nuggets. Hayward finished with 32 points to lead the Jazz. The Jazz’s 23-point lead was cut to four in a Nuggets flurry late, but the Jazz held on.
· The first half of this game had very little feel to it, which is not surprising considering the amount of starting line-ups these two teams have used this year. Both coaches went to their benches early. The Nuggets showed their hand early in this game: They had no intention of playing a center and wanted to speed the game up as much as possible. As a result, Nurkic played just 13 minutes.
· The Jazz went to halftime leading by two points, and it didn’t feel like any spectacular was about to happen. The game had been close, neither team had gone on any run, neither team had lead by more than six and we had nine lead changes and 11 ties.
· Then — boom! — the Jazz erupted. More specifically, Gordon Hayward erupted. The Jazz scored 33 points, blowing out the Nuggets 33-16 in the quarter, with Gordon Hayward scoring 21 of the team’s 33. He hit 8 of 11, two of three from three and three of three from the line in the third. He outscored the Nuggets 21-16.
· The Jazz assisted on 9 of the 13 field goals in the third. Five different players had assists in the quarter, lead by Joe Johnson with three.
· Hayward finished the quarter with a thunderous jam for his 30th point on the game, making it the first time in his career that he has scored 30 in three straight games. It was his seventh straight game of 20 or more — also the longest stretch in his career.
· Hayward is a completely different player than he has been. We talked about how easy the game looked for him all preseason before he broke the finger. He had worked incredibly hard all offseason to take the next step, and then a fluke injury in practice seemed to derail all of it. Hayward started the year with five straight games of 20 or more. Then, he hit a miserable three-game stretch that followed his finger getting hit again and there was real concern on his stability. Now, the finger is feeling better (other than dunks) and Hayward has reached a level we have never seen before.
· Over the last seven games, he is averaging 27 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists while shooting 49% from the field, 47% from three and seemingly never missing a free throw. Over the past three games, he is averaging 32 points, 4 rebounds, 5 assists and both his field goal and 3-point percentages are over 50%.
· He isn’t forcing the game, either — that is what makes this exciting.
· Dante Exum bounced back nicely from a tough start the other night. He finished with 10 points, 2 rebounds and 2 assists.
· Joe Ingles played 26 minutes and was important in the win. He added 4 rebounds and 3 assists.
· Nice to have Hoody back it — allows the guys to be in the spots where they can be most successful.
The Jazz have won 5 of 6.