Utah Jazz: Gordon Hayward, Raja Bell begin to break out of funk

Published: Sunday, Jan. 8 2012 11:00 p.m. MST

Monta Ellis #8 of the Golden State Warriors shoots a last second shot over Raja Bell #19 of the Utah Jazz at Oracle Arena on January 7, 2012 in Oakland, California. Ellis missed the shot and the Utah Jazz won by one point.

Ezra Shaw, Getty Images

SALT LAKE CITY — Gordon Hayward and Raja Bell received postgame adulation Saturday night for their contributions in the Utah Jazz's first road win of the season.

And deservedly so.

Bell's stifling late-game defense prevented Monta Ellis from adding game hero to his high-scorer status, while Hayward topped the team with 18 points and hit the game-winning free throw (giving him a pass on a missed second freebie).

Considering his pregame talk, it was almost as if Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin had special prescient powers.

Corbin's postgame comments didn't include a "told you so" quote, but they could have.

Moments before they went out and proved him right in Oakland, the second-year bench boss showed confidence in Bell and Hayward, both of whom came into the 88-87 win over the Warriors struggling with different aspects of their games.

Asked about Hayward's wayward aim from long range, Corbin responded: "He's taking them (shots) in rhythm. He's taking the right shots, which is the most important thing. We're confident he'll start making those shots."

Asked about pairing the offensively MIA Bell with Hayward in the starting lineup, Corbin replied: "I think (Hayward) learns from him. I think the two can help each other."

The coach pointed out how the experienced Bell gets "up on the guy" on defense and mixes up his approach to keep offensive players guessing, sometimes backing off and occasionally getting in a shooter's face. He's a good example for Jazz youngsters.

Give him one point — heck, two — for Corbin calling his shot(s).

With the full confidence of their coach, the two players — who are 14 years apart in age, mind you — started and finished strong.

Though it's driven some fans nuts, this game exemplified why Corbin has continued to keep them in the starting wing positions together despite extreme objections from outsiders critical of Bell's play. Rookie Alec Burks, veteran Josh Howard or maybe even C.J. Miles could end up in the starting lineup.

Not yet, though.

And Corbin hasn't wavered in voicing support for his oldest player.

"He's a tough guy. He's a pro," Corbin said. "He's going to do whatever it takes to help the team win, and that's what I respect about him. Even if his shot is not falling and people don't understand his value, I really understand what his value is to this team and how he can help us win. He's done a tremendous job for us."

When Bell (nine points) and Hayward pair up like they did Saturday for the first time, it bodes well for the 5-3 Jazz's chances of continuing to win. The team has mostly relied on excellent production from post players and reliable efforts from reserves.

"When we can contribute, help Al (Jefferson) and Paul (Millsap) and Devin (Harris), and those guys carry the load," Bell said, "it just becomes a little lighter for them."

Plus, Bell can be, as teammate Jamaal Tinsley called him, a "defensive stopper" at times. That's why Corbin subbed out Josh Howard, a better scorer, and put Bell back in against Ellis for the final two minutes Saturday.

It paid off nicely as Bell forced a turnover, then made Golden State's go-to guy make a low-percentage last-second attempt that missed.

"Raja (knows) how to play guys. He can get up in them," Corbin said. "The referees give him the benefit of the doubt they might not give some other guys. He did a great job early on (Ellis), playing him, being physical, changing up the looks on him, and I thought he made a great play at the end making him to take a tough shot."

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